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New AI-driven automation platform enables optimization of laboratory protocols in the age of COVID-19 and beyond

publication date: Jul 6, 2022
author/source: Philip Morris International


A new laboratory automation platform has been demonstrated to facilitate the running of complex scientific experiments in laboratories operating under COVID-19 constraints such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The platform, developed by Philip Morris International (Neuchâtel, Switzerland) in collaboration with SBX Corporation (Tokyo, Japan), uses artificial intelligence to plan and optimize laboratory operations under any number of risk scenarios. The results of a test study, conducted in a real-life High Content Screening (HCS) laboratory scenario and published in the journal SLAS Technology, show the potential of the platform to deliver end-to-end laboratory automation.

“This powerful new platform facilitates the robust and systematized assessment of diverse laboratory operations,” said Diego Marescotti, HCS Manager, System Toxicology, PMI. “It has the flexibility to process complex, multi-layered information and can simulate any type of experiment in any type of laboratory. It allows scientists and laboratory managers to measure the performance impact of specific constraints and quantify any trade-offs that may need to be made. Ultimately, the new platform enables cost-effective decision-making, allowing scientists to optimize their operations regardless of the conditions in which they are working.”

The platform is organized around four core layers: 1) the Facility Layer, covering the physical layout of the laboratory, including entry/exit points, windows and air vents, electrical layouts, etc. 2) the Equipment Layer, detailing all laboratory equipment and its position in the facility, 3) the Operational Layer, encapsulating the operational flow of an experiment protocol, particularly the movement of people/materials and the use of equipment, and 4) the Information Layer, capturing the flow of information and the computational workflows of a given experiment. Based on Garuda technology, the platform is controlled by an Automation Dashboard and three customizable modules: a Layout Manager, a Workflow Manager, and a Simulation and Results Manager.

The collaboration has demonstrated how the platform can be used to assess and plan experimental workflows for a complex pre-clinical in vitro study in an HCS laboratory operating under real-life COVID-19 restrictions. The impact of social distancing and reduced personnel on the execution times of two cell-based assays was assessed and reported.

“While we have demonstrated how this platform can be used to evaluate experimental workflows in one specific study, the flexibility of the system means it can be configured to assess protocols in any type of laboratory, running any type of experiment,” said Samik Ghosh, CTO, SBX Corporation. “By leveraging the power of artificial intelligence and connecting diverse laboratory processes, data, and monitoring modalities, this powerful new platform combines both human and machine intelligence to optimize performance and productivity under a variety of constraints and conditions.”

As well as allowing scientists and laboratory managers to adjust to changes in working practices (such as those brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic), the modular nature of the platform allows for the future integration of the system with new laboratory technologies and techniques. In addition, the platform may be expanded to connect with other aspects of scientific operations such as quality control, training, and financial management, creating an end-to-end platform for scientific laboratory automation in the times of COVID-19 and beyond.



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