member board of directors SiLA consortium, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland
Introduction: There has been much talk and substantial progress in automated and flexible Smart lab concepts in biopharma R&D. This is acknowledged to be important in enabling the acceleration of innovation and digitisation of R&D operations. However, many proposals stop short of full automation – limiting out-of-hours operation which is particular important in tasks such as cell culture - or are locked to a particular vendor’s offering in a dedicated system - which can limit the flexibility and access so important in R&D. Motivation: In this contribution we describe a fully integrated automated cell culture system in the open lab which is multi-vendor using open standards. This creates a “cell culture autopilot” for small-scale cell culture, with repetitive media exchange, confluency checking, and splitting steps which are typically labour intensive but not very demanding in terms of throughput. Approach: The system brings together recent developments in cell imaging, collaborative cloud robotics, and small-scale automated devices such as incubator and refrigerator. The use of a free ranging mobile robot enables the automation to operate across benches in a lab that can be shared with human staff without additional constraints. This addresses a need for distributed automation that blends into existing facilities. The SiLA 2 standard facilitates straightforward communication between all system components, despite their coming from different suppliers.
Results: We describe the steps and pitfalls towards a system autonomously culturing cells in a small scale format. The system is able to schedule important but tiresome steps such as prewarming media and allowing laminar flow in the biosafety cabinet to stabilise. Future Work: Given the open nature of the system implementation of further devices is currently under evaluation.
Conclusion: Lab automation is becoming a new reality in scientific research. This contribution shows how automation is compatible with flexibility and innovation thanks to open standards."