Thailand’s Mahidol University and the Institute of Molecular Biosciences needed a rapid and safe way of testingvaccines and handling COVID samples
An ABB YuMi cobot and an industrial robot work together as part of the AI -Immunizer system to handle samples of virus as well as antibodies
The robots can perform tasks such as unscrewing vials and transporting them to test stations, performing repetitive actions that avoids risks to human operators
As the world gears up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid testing of vaccines is vital to ensure that populations can swiftly achieve immunity. Yet this testing must also be performed accurately to get the correct results and safely to ensure laboratory staff are not exposed to risk.
With their ability to perform repeated actions accurately and quickly, robots are ideal for this type of work. Collaborative robots or cobots, which feature human like arms, are ideal to replace people in the testing of samples as they can perform the same manipulation and handling tasks accurately and tirelessly.
Two ABB robots are part of an innovative AI-Immunizer system being used to help speed up the development of an effective vaccine that can be used to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Thailand. Developed as part of a collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering at Thailand’s Mahidol University and the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, the system uses ABB’s IRB 1100 and YuMi® collaborative dual arm robots to assist with key tasks involved in vaccine testing and development.
The AI-Immunizer conducts the Plaque Reduction Neutralization Test or PRNT, a highly repetitive testing regime that causes stress and risk to human workers.
The AI-Immunizer consists of two units – Unit A and Unit B. In Unit A, with its seven axes and two arms, YuMi handles the complete human immune neutralization testing process. Its human like arms and grippers allow it to work with standard laboratory tools and it is perfectly designed to perform the handling and picking tasks that humans are adept at. During this process, samples of the COVID -19 virus and different antibodies are mixed and tested before being analyzed with AI.
The vaccine testing then has to be repeated to ensure that the formula is reliable. To do this, the vaccination formula from YuMi in unit A is transferred to unit B where ABB’s IRB 1100 six-axis industrial robot completes the overall re-testing process. The IRB 1100 works with multiple samples, accelerating the work process and enabling testing to be repeated continuously with fewer mistakes, supporting the future development of vaccines at an industrial level.
By using robots to automate these tasks as part of a closed system for aseptic processing, the risk of exposing human operators to the virus is minimized. Furthermore, the ability of YuMi and IRB 1100 to quickly handle the repetitive testing process also helps to remove the scope for potential human errors that could affect the efficiency and validity of the testing process.
Easy graphics based programming also allows the robots to be adapted for other tasks if the testing regime changes or additional manipulation or handling tasks are required.
“Our Center for Vaccine Development is playing a leading role in the development of a vaccine to help protect against COVID-19 infection. However, this means not just keeping up with the demand but also taking the diversity of the genetics of this virus into account, potentially putting researchers under considerable stress. Some of this stress can be removed by using the robot to help develop a vaccine more quickly,” says Professor Dr. Narattaphol Charoenphandhu, Di-rector of Institute of Molecular Biosciences and the Acting Assistant President for Research and Scientific Affairs, Mahidol University.
The improvements delivered by the robots will also see them being used to help develop other vaccines.
“The robots used in the AI-Immunizer can replace humans in certain tasks, which will reduce infection risks to medical professionals, as well as helping streamline their workflow. The AI-Immunizer system will also help accelerate the development of a COVID-19 candidate vaccine in Thailand, while paving the way for other vaccine research and development projects in the future,” says Chamras Promptmas, an advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University.
In addition to this project, ABB will continue to support the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University, providing free technical training for its medical engineering team.
“We are proud to support the supply of robots to Mahidol University to help its researchers find new ways of utilizing robotic automation in various projects,” says Lumboon Simakajornboon, Local Business Manager, ABB Robotics, Thailand.
“Applications such as the AI-Immunizer robot system help to show how the growing capabilities of robots enable them to be increasingly deployed in the medical sector as well as manufacturing industries.”
Founded in 1943 and originally known as the ‘University of Medical Sciences’, Mahidol University is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Thailand and is well-known for its Siriraj Medical School, the first medical school in Thailand.
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