New high-throughput robotic facility opens at Simon Fraser University

Photo supplied by Simon Fraser University.

Walk by the Faculty of Science’s newest facility and you will likely witness a dozen robotic instruments working in synchronicity within a sterile glass chamber. This is what the face of modern day chemical biology looks like.

The automated equipment sifts through thousands of chemical compounds and tests them against a diverse range of biological targets and miniature cultures of cells. Through this process, researchers hope to uncover fundamental new cellular processes as well as molecules that can be used to probe the inner workings of cells.

Within the new Centre for High Throughput Chemical Biology (HTCB) the robotics are harnessed to an array of liquid handling devices and sensitive detectors that are coupled to automated data processing software. The HTCB will help researchers quickly analyze and test up to 50,000 compounds a day for biological activity – far surpassing by orders of magnitude what can be done manually by hand.

The focus of the HTCB on driving the early stages of basic scientific discovery is unique in Western Canada. Founding director David Vocadlo says, “We aim to enable the wider research community to use automated robotic screening to accelerate their research – whatever it might be.” He adds, “Accelerating fundamental research in this way will drive the discovery of new pathways that can be targeted to treat diseases as well as deliver new molecules that can be evaluated in disease models to test new potential therapeutic approaches.”

Dr. Vocadlo is also a network investigator for GlycoNet, a pan-Canadian multidisciplinary research network aiming to deliver solutions to important health issues and improve the quality of life of Canadians through the study of glycomics. GlycoNet funded a project allowing partner screening centres like Dr. Vocadlo’s to acquire a new collection of compounds to help identify new drug lead compounds through high-throughput screening.

Roger Linington, co-director of the centre is delighted that the HTCB has the potential to answer both basic and applied science questions at SFU and beyond. He says, “Long term, these results should contribute to new approaches for solutions to a number of important and emerging challenges in human health”.

Linington notes that “This facility is transformative for researchers in SFU’s life sciences departments, industry users and outside academic researchers who want to take advantage of the speed and accuracy offered by the high-throughput robotic platform not only for screening purposes but also optimization of cell culture or for precisely quantitating what is going on within cells”.

Dean of Science, Claire Cupples says, “The Centre’s facilities are already transforming the way in which research is done across many of our departments in the Faculty of Science. It is wonderful to see that the opportunities presented by the Centre are rapidly entering the intellectual and technical repertoire of our scientists and their students.”

The February 27, 2018 grand opening will include a symposium with international and local experts presenting leading edge research illustrating the scope of high throughput processing. The sold-out event will close with a tour of the new facility.

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Story and photo reprinted with permission from Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Science.

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