How To Maximize Your Productivity In The Lab Whilst Working From Home
With another UK lockdown in place, more and more people are starting to work from home. This can be especially challenging for lab scientists who cannot perform their experiments outside of the lab.
Luckily, there is a solution: a lot of experimental planning, design, and even iteration can now be done remotely, enabling scientists to utilize their away time and maximize individual and team productivity.
If your lab is only partially open and you are working remotely, you can prepare and send your execution files to colleagues on site to run the experiments. If your lab is completely shut, preparing execution files now will let you perform your experiments straight away upon return.
Is Automation the Answer to Staying Productive During a Global Pandemic?
Manual lab techniques like pipetting are increasingly being replaced with automation, such as liquid handling robots. By minimizing the potential for human error, automation greatly benefits the scientist by improving reproducibility and also reducing the time from data generation to insight.
However, automation that heavily relies on device-specific vendor software still has a number of challenges, creating a barrier to its use in biology labs:
- Programming a robot with vendor software often requires advanced coding skills and may not be intuitive for biologists; the help from automation engineers is often needed
- New users need to undergo extensive training before they can operate on their own
- This means every experiment requires at least two people, leading to associated staff costs, a delay in getting the results, and increased face-to-face interactions
- Most automation protocols are inflexible: they are specific to a single device and device model
- Transferring a protocol to a different robot requires the protocol to be re-written and/or the robot to be reprogrammed which is incredibly time consuming
- Typically, vendor software can only be operated on a computer physically connected to hardware in the lab, meaning that all R&D comes to a halt when scientists start working from home
These challenges limit the use of automation in bioscience labs, and they certainly do not help during lockdown. Scientists are still tied to the lab bench, required to spend hours on reconfiguring robots and getting help from colleagues, which is neither safe nor productive.
Enabling scientists to remotely design, plan, simulate, and execute their experiments would empower them to optimize their ways of working, increase productivity, and transform the way science is done.
Antha Facilitates Lab Automation
Our software platform Antha® overcomes the challenges associated with lab automation and remote working:
- Antha is device-agnostic, allowing users to easily build sophisticated protocols and seamlessly transfer them between multiple automation devices
- Antha protocols are flexible: they can be easily reused, adapted, and shared with a push of a button
- The user interface (UI) is easy to operate and does not require extensive training or any coding skills: you can simply build a workflow in Antha's drag-and-drop interface (see an example qPCR workflow on the left), and Antha will translate it into instructions for the liquid handler
- Experiments can be simulated, previewed, and verified in silico, anywhere outside of the lab, enabling users to prepare them remotely
Furthermore, for most vendor software, an increase in assay complexity comes with prolonged experimental time. This can be a huge burden for lab scientists, especially in times like the current COVID-19 pandemic, when the speed and efficiency of R&D are key.
In contrast, Antha can execute sophisticated experiments while providing significant time savings, as demonstrated in our work with Oxford Biomedica, where Antha reduced experimental design and planning time by up to 98% compared to vendor software.
How Does Antha Increase Productivity in the Lab from Home?
Antha can be accessed and operated on any computer outside of the lab, meaning you can build, test, and verify all of your workflows from home.
The in silico simulation feature identifies any potential errors in the workflow and prompts the user to fix them. The in silico preview feature visualizes the experimental setup, including the liquid handler deck layout with labware, reagents, and every single liquid transfer.
With all this sorted, you can jump straight into setup and execution upon return to the lab and stay confident about the experimental success.
If your lab is still open, preparing experiments from home and sending the files to colleagues on site for execution will keep your R&D going while minimizing face-to-face interactions and eliminating the need for majority of the team to commute to work.
How Does Antha Enable Data Reproducibility and Connectivity Between Teams?
All data and metadata associated with each experiment are recorded and stored in Antha's secure cloud environment. When appropriate access is granted, selected users can search the database to extract any required information about a particular experiment.
This ensures data traceability, reproducibility, and transferability not only between research groups in the same organization but also across different sites all over the word.
Importantly, Antha adheres to the FAIR principles of data management.
At Synthace, Antha enables seamless communication between our teams in Boston, USA and London, UK. The Boston team can design, iterate, and optimize experimental workflows and send them over to the London team for execution in our in-house lab. The London team can in turn feedback on the experimental success and any changes required to the workflow.
Similarly, during the pandemic, most of our lab staff in London prepare experiments from home and send them over to the lab, where a few colleagues execute them.
The resulting data is collected and stored in Antha so anyone on the team can access and work with it. This allows us to continue developing our product and delivering value to our customers with only a few team members on site.
By enabling scientists to prepare and verify their experiments remotely, Antha helps them utilize their away time and avoid further delays to their R&D. You can continue working on your research from home, maintaining your and your team’s productivity and efficiency.
Antha allows the teams to support each other remotely and minimizes the need for site visits. By breaking down physical barriers and facilitating digitization of experiments, Antha is contributing to the digital revolution and transforming R&D.