ultra High Throughput Screening
Calibr is a non-profit biomedical research institute affiliated with Scripps Research. They apply state-of-the-art drug discovery techniques to identify new drug candidates for neglected diseases. The Lab Automation group at Calibr uses automated liquid handling devices to fulfill compound management needs and allow scientists to develop biochemical and phenotypic assays in formats compatible with ultra High Through Screening (uHTS) systems. The institute has a fully integrated uHTS lab that houses millions of compounds for small molecule drug discovery; it uses industrial robotic arms to transport microplates with thousands of wells dedicated to individual experiments between incubators, compound transfer stations, and reagent dispensing devices.
The uHTS lab is designed for robotic operation with minimal human intervention. The spaces in the room accommodate bulky automated plate carousels that house both compound plates and assay plates in controlled environments, automated liquid handlers used to dispense reagents into experimental microplates with high precision and speed, and dexterous robotic arms to carefully transport plates between stations in coordinated movements. The fully integrated system can run indefinitely given enough reagents and an error free routine. The sophisticated control algorithms behind the system, which control and monitor variables like incubation times and reagent dispense volumes, enable high experimental reproducibility across experimental plates, a characteristic needed for the comparative evaluation of experimental conditions across plates processed throughout multiple hours; the first plate processed shouldn't significantly differ from the last plate.
My employment at Calibr equipped me with a wide variety of technical skills that now shape my career path. Working with my supervisor Hung Nguyen under the guidance of our Principal Investigator Mitchel Hull allowed me to explore academic curiosities surrounding device prototyping, additive manufacturing, computer aided design, scripting, and robotics.
Images courtesy of Calibr
The uHTS lab can alienate human scientists because of its lack of accessible bench space and highly compartmentalized functional design, but its orchestrated active operation can also be an intricate visual wonder.