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Which lab processes can be automated today?

19th October 2021Caitlin Stanway-Williams

The key lab processes you can automate today to make lab work more efficient, reduce human error and increase walkaway time.

Automation is an absolute game-changer for labs. Complex challenges facing lab workers today – such as highly-skilled staff shortages, the increased need for efficiency and the reproducibility crisis – are significantly reduced with automation. As a result, human-robot teams are as much as 85% more effective than humans alone.

Lab automation stats

Tech, such as automated liquid handling, lab robot arms and other laboratory robotics, has proven to make lab work more efficient, less strenuous and reduce human error. But, picking the best processes to automate can be confusing when you’re just setting out.

As a rule, the best place to start with lab automation is the dull, strenuous and repetitive jobs taking place in the pre- and post-analytical stages. By automating these tasks, you take the pressure off staff to be stood over their assays for hours and hours every day, and give them more walkaway time to focus on the work that uses their expertise and skill set.

With that in mind, we’ve listed some of the lab processes that are prime for automation this year and beyond.

(PS. If you’re still struggling to know where to start with lab automation, why not check out our (Total) Beginner’s Guide to Lab Automation).

 

Biobanking

 

Biobanking is a process that’s gained significance in the lab space recently because of the increase in quality requirements for biological samples in biomedical research and other areas.

It involves the quality-assured collection, processing and storage of biological samples with defined pre-analytical history. But, due to increasing demand, more and more samples need to be acquired and prepared to ensure the best possible sample quality.

Automation technologies are ideal for guaranteeing this kind of repeated quality and ensuring samples are achieving standardization.

 

Cell culture

 

Cell cultures have long been an essential part of basic biological research and drug discovery, and they are also one of the most popular processes for automation today.

The process of manually manipulating cells can be laborious, slow and repetitive – not to mention error-prone. And, since complexity and throughput have all increased throughout recent years as demand has increased, it’s becoming more challenging to do it at the kind of scale required by many modern labs.

By automating the feeding and passaging of cells, the active time required for the daily tasks involved in cell cultures can be significantly reduced, and the variation created by human error and different operators is eliminated.

 

Personalised medicine

 

Personalised medicine (or precision medicine) is the process of separating people into different groups and tailoring medical decisions, practices, interventions and/or products to each individual based on their predicted response, or risk of disease.

It’s rapidly becoming a key component of healthcare plans in lots of countries. But the advancement of science and the availability of data means that it needs to be supported by automation technologies to be truly scalable.

 

ELISA

 

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or enzyme immunoassay, is a plate-based assay technique that allows lab workers to detect and quantify soluble substances such as antibodies, proteins, hormones and peptides. The processes of ELISA includes reagent dispensing, microplate washing, incubation and absorbance measurement – all repetitive and laborious processes that are ripe for automation.

Most traditional instruments on the market that automate the processes of ELISA were designed to analyse immunoassays in large hospitals. While these instruments can perform a large quantity of different assays every day, they’re bulky and expensive – before we even touch on the costly and frequent maintenance requirements.

However, as lab automation tech has developed, ELISA equipment is becoming smaller and more affordable, and innovation in this space will continue over the next few years.

Lab process analysis

Next-generation sequencing

 

Next-generation sequencing (NGS)  is a process that has completely revolutionised genomics since its inception in 2009, with entire genomes able to be sequenced more efficiently than ever before. However, there are still a lot of repetitive, manual steps, such as sample preparation and data analysis, that are time-consuming and vulnerable to human error and variability.

Lab automation technologies, such as automated liquid handling and barcode labelers, provide a solution for many of these challenges, and increase precision by eliminating variability and error in the samples.

 

CRISPR

In 2021, so it may be early days to be talking about CRISPR. But it’s predicted that CRISPR/Cas9 (the cutting-edge gene-engineering tool, that allows the rapid and precise editing of genetic sequences in a wide range of organisms) will be one of the biggest  – and most controversial – scientific breakthroughs of the decade. As such, it will be ramping up throughout 2021.

Like with many techniques in modern molecular biology, CRISPR workflows are dominated by repetitive tasks such as pipetting, liquid handling and the complexing and delivery of key reagents. Automation can help eliminate the time highly-skilled staff are spending bent over high precision liquid handling tools.

With automation introduced to the CRISPR process, convenience, productivity, accuracy and precision can all be increased significantly, ensuring reproducible and verifiable results.

 

Other processes ripe for automation

These are just a few of the thousands of applications of lab automation out there today. And they certainly aren’t the only processes being automated.

Other lab processes prime for automation in 2021 include:

  • Decapping and recapping 
  • Forensic analysis
  • Safety testing
  • 3D cultures
  • Flow cytometry
  • Liquid biopsies
  • Microarrays
  • Food safety testing

 

And any other repetitive pre- or post-analytical processes.

 

Thinking of automating your lab? Get in contact with one of our lab automation specialists for advice on getting started today.

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