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Master projects continue thanks to lab automation

The fact that corona has created a wave of creativity is evident when walking around in the lab of pharmacologist Coen van Hasselt from the LACDR. Suddenly there were far fewer master's students permitted in the lab for their research. So Van Hasselt came up with smart solutions to enable lab work to continue during corona time. ‘Automation was a godsend,’ he says.

Robot does the work

Corona threw a spanner in the works and ensured that students could only do their work in the lab to a limited extent, as they had to deal with maximum utilisation of lab and office space.That's why Van Hasselt came up with automation solutions. ‘Normally, one student at a time can use a device, but with the solutions we used, twelve students can do a measurement at the same time.’

Robots in the lab

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Getting used to robots

In the beginning, master's student Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences Annemoon Roeland had to get used to using robots in the lab. ‘We had to figure out how the robots worked. Sometimes things went wrong or the robots got stuck, but eventually we got the hang of it.’

Fellow master’s student Sybren Bouwman also had to get used to the new working method. ‘Before corona, you could just go to the lab whenever you wanted, but now you have to indicate in a schedule when you want to be here’, says Sybren. 

By now everybody is used to the robots. And it is clear that they have added value. Van Hasselt: ‘Apart from saving time, the chance that you make mistakes is a lot smaller, because the robot works very precisely. In addition, students are now forced to think carefully about their experiments in advance, because you have to enter a template in the computer that the robot can use.’

Continuing with robots after corona

The robots are so successful that Van Hasselt plans to continue with the automation after corona. ‘I notice that students enjoy working with these robots’, says Van Hasselt. Sybren and Annemoon agree. ‘If the robots were not there, we would never have been able to work in the lab with so many people at the same time during corona’, says Sybren.

The robots also offer the advantage of being able to work more precisely. Annemoon: ‘I need to do less manual work myself, because the robot does that for me. Of course, you try to work precisely by hand, but a robot can do that just a bit more precisely. So it makes my work better and easier. I am very happy with it!’

Coen van Hasselt's research group studies antibiotic resistance. ‘We want to understand how you can develop dosage regimens that can ultimately limit and perhaps even prevent antibiotic resistance. We do this by doing experiments in the lab that mimic the treatment of patients with antibiotics. At the same time, we use mathematical models to analyse data and link it to clinical patient data, in order to develop better treatments for patients.’

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