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Axcend: Compact, Accessible, Sustainable Liquid Chromatography

(image courtesy of Axcend)


Liquid Chromatography (LC) is a foundational technique in the measurement sciences. By separating a mixture of chemical components, it is possible to detect and quantitate each individual component in a reproducible manner. This reproducibility has made LC a bedrock technique in quality control and other labs across multiple industries. However, LC typically requires a substantial investment in equipment—both in the space and money to acquire the instrumentation but also in the expertise to utilize and maintain the equipment. Power and organic solvent consumption are also non-negligible aspects of traditional equipment. 


Axcend, founded in 2018 by Milton Lee and Glen Mella, is a company on a mission to transform liquid chromatography (LC) by making it smaller, simpler, more accessible, and with minimal organic solvent waste. Co-founder Lee has previously led multiple entrepreneurial ventures in the instrumentation market, including the development of hand-portable gas chromatography mass spectrometry systems. Lee and his team have taken the same approach at Axcend to apply innovation in the redefinition of LC. 


In this blog post, I'll share some of what I've learned about Axcend's mission and current accomplishments from an interview I had with Axcend's current CEO, Greg Ward.


Miniaturization Innovation for Wider Applications

Axcend's vision began with the idea of miniaturizing LC instruments. This would not only save valuable bench space but also expand the reach of LC beyond traditional lab settings, allowing LCs to be located in non-traditional locations with non-traditional users. It would also minimize solvent consumption—an important consideration in an environmentally conscious world. However, such novel and widespread use could not be possible without innovation in instrumentation. 


While no single component of the Axcend system would be considered a new breakthrough, Axcend's great innovative feat is in the combination and integration of multiple instrumentation and technology innovations into one system. For example, the capillary separation technology used by Axcend is not unique to Axcend. Nor are the readily available UV-LEDs. Nor are the compact components of their fluidic system. However, the combination of each of these elements into a functional, robust, miniaturized LC is something totally new to the LC market. 


Overcoming Challenges, Achieving Impact

Axcend's journey to a compact LC hasn't been without hurdles. Refining the fluidics, electronics, and software to meet performance standards required multiple iterations. In particular, the proprietary fluidic system required careful design to ensure that the pumps and fluidic cartridges could deliver precise and reliable separation and analysis.

This multi-iteration approach has yielded fruits of success. Their current LC systems deliver exceptional sensitivity and performance, rivaling established industry leaders. The company's collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry highlights the potential of the technology to perform in established applications. 


However, making a dent in an established, regulated industry setting with a host of established LC partners is not an easy prospect for a new company. Most recently, Axcend has found success in some non-traditional markets. For example, they recently implemented one of their systems for a jet-fuel stability analysis in a military setting. The portable LC system could not only be carried to the sample source (rather than the other way around), but the software and system were set up to be operable by a minimally trained 18-year-old aviator. 


This and many other examples are highlights of how Axcend is able to bring the instrumentation to the application and put LC in places it wouldn't traditionally be considered feasible.


Built-in Sustainability

In addition to accessibility, Axcend prioritizes environmental responsibility in its design philosophy, aligning with current corporate environmental responsibility goals. Their compact instruments consume minimal power—similar to running a 12-watt light bulb. A laboratory with dozens of LCs operating in parallel could see significant savings with this lower power alternative.


Additionally, the system's capillary flow and efficient design minimizes solvent use. In the Axcend test laboratories, it's not uncommon for a 1L bottle of acetonitrile to hit the expiration date before it is consumed. This contrasts with the usual consumption of liters of solvent per day in a typical LC system. 


In a world where environmental impact matters more and more, the Axcend systems offer the opportunity to match performance with low impact. 


A Vision for the Future

CEO Greg Ward's vision is to continue to see Axcend's instruments make inroads into applications where LC wouldn't normally be seen. He also sees great potential for the adoption of these instruments into labs where traditional LCs dominate. 


As Greg and I closed our conversation, I asked if he thought that one day an LC might even be found in individuals' homes. Ward thought that seemed a bit of a stretch, but then commented "A few decades ago, we thought the same thing about color inkjet printers—and look where we are now." 


Whatever the future holds, Ward is confident that Axcend's pioneering work will bring LC analysis a bit closer to every individual than is now possible.


To learn more about Axcend, visit their website at Axcendcorp.com.

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