Fresh from turning heads at last year's LABVOLUTION with a showcase including the single-use "Cell-tainer" bioreactor, the TU Berlin is back to present its "Lab of the future" from the Department of Bioprocess Engineering. The project is designed to speed up development and significantly reduce costs in the production of pharmaceuticals and other biological products by fully automating the processes involved. Up till now, developing new processes to produce antibiotics and cancer drugs has been a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. "It can take ten to fifteen years for a new product to be launched on the market, and investments of billions are relatively common," explains Dr. Peter Neubauer, who heads up the Department of Bioprocess Engineering. This is why he and his team have set up a lab where the processes for developing an innovative bio-product can be fully automated.
In the "Lab of the future", all manual lab processes are consigned to the past - including the planning and evaluation of experiments. The lab is currently based around two robots: one is responsible for the entire analysis process, while the other is equipped with a miniaturized bioreactor system featuring 48 receptacles for cultivating cells. Each of these can be used to provide different cultivation conditions so that 48 independent experiments can be carried out simultaneously - in the "Lab of the future", cell culture and analytics can take place at one and the same time.
What is happening at the "Lab of the future" has the potential to revolutionize bioprocess technology. Clearly, this is not the first time that robots have been used in labs, but the fact that these particular robots can carry out more than one process step is hugely exciting. Up to this point, most robots have been used either to cultivate cells or to destroy them to obtain specific substances. Others simply analyze samples. By contrast, the approach that Dr. Neubauer's team has taken is to integrate all these individual processes into a single robot, controlled using intelligent computer systems.