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Driving drug discovery with micromotors

By Dave Walsha, sales manager, Electrical Mechanical Systems (EMS)



Driving drug discovery with micromotors

It takes at least ten years for a new medicine to reach market, with clinical trials alone taking up to seven years. But drug developers, particularly those developing vaccines, have had to work much quicker in recent times. Could industry maintain this momentum, and develop pharmaceutical products faster?

Here, Dave Walsha, sales manager at precision drive system supplier, Electrical Mechanical Systems (EMS), explores how micromotors are helping drug discovery.

The tasks of analytical devices and machines used in laboratories are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and these devices require a system that enables highly accurate actions.

Micromotors, as the name suggests, are motors designed for the smallest of applications. But their size does not determine performance. Instead, these motors are extremely fast, precise highly powerful, making them an ideal choice for drug discovery applications.

Small motors, big impact

In a survey of 70 organisations across the NHS and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), BT found that 90 per cent are accelerating digital transformation plans, encouraged by the demand in remote services, rising patient expectations and pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital transformation in the medical industry varies from digitalised patient services and medical software, to medicine that contains sensors and robots used in laboratories.

Robots have been used in the medical field since 1985, when the Puma 560 was developed by the first robotics company, Unimation, to carry out a brain biopsy.

It was developed to combat the risk of error from hand tremors during needle placement. However, the industry didn’t fully accept robots in regular practice until the 1990s.

Today’s robots can be used elsewhere, in delicate processes like drug development. In particular, robots are used to automate and speed up processes including drug screening, anti-counterfeiting and manufacturing tasks.

But to enable this, these robots must be powered by high performing, accurate motors.

Where else can micromotors be used in to drive drug development?

Precision testing

An immunoassay is a test that relies on biochemistry to measure the presence and concentration of an analyte. This can be large proteins, antibodies that a person has produced because of an infection or small molecules.

These sensitive assays are used in preclinical and clinical stages of drug development, where they can evaluate drug response biomarkers, immunotherapy success and toxicity.

Immunoassays automatically and quickly run tests of multiple samples in parallel, saving vital time, and enabling the high throughput screening of samples — an ability that’s invaluable to drug discovery scientists.

Immunoassays tests are often conducted by an immunoassay analyser, a compact device with a built-in computer. To ensure the speed and reliability of the test, the analyser must be powered with motors such as brushless DC-servomotors.

Micromotors are built for extreme, repetitive operating conditions as they are precise and possess long lifecycles.

Supporting cell culture

Cell culture, also known as cell analysis, is one of the most valuable testing methods in medical practice and helps bring drugs safely to market.

Cell culture is the process of growing cells from human tissue in an incubator to provide sufficient material for drug testing. The cells are grown in tissue culture flasks in a medium containing cell nutrients and growth factors.

This activity is carried out in the last phase of drug development — the clinical trial phase. Cell culture serves as a substitute for testing medication safely.

For instance, it determines what dosage achieves the desired result without side effects, and at what limit does the medication turn toxic.

Cell culture testing is a time consuming, repetitive job that requires great precision from the technician to ensure there is no contamination, which can be detrimental to the cultures.

Instead, automated test systems are becoming increasingly popular for saving time and improving accuracy and quality.

EMS is the sole UK supplier of FAULHABER motors, which provide a superior combination of high performance, precision and low weight motors, ideal for use in medical and laboratory equipment.

In fact, its motors are used to power the CYRIS®FLOX automated test system, designed by German biotechnology company, INCYTON.

In combination with an integrated motion controller, six brushless DC-servomotors are built into the device, with each one serving a different purpose.

Three move the pipetting head in the robot arm on three axes. A fourth motor drives 24 suction pistons, which transport culture medium in sterile pipette tips.

The final two motors move the microscope on an XY table below the cell samples.

In this application, the motors ensure that the cultures are supplied with nutrients and medications throughout the trial and the development of the cells is closely monitored.

What’s more, the small and precise features of the FAULHABER motors ensure precision and reliability in this continuous operation.

Although it takes around a decade for new drugs to reach market, we’ve seen that the medical industry can work with greater agility when necessary.

With the help of powerful and precise micromotors, automated immunoassays can ensure high throughput screening, and automated cell culture testing systems can determine if a product is safe, helping to bring drugs to market faster.

To find out more about the small and medium sized motors EMS supplies and manufactures, visit www.ems-limited.co.uk.

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