New ‘smart’ robot to boost cancer research

London: To accelerate cancer research, scientists have developed a “smart” robot that plans and conducts experiments with many substances and draws its own conclusions from the results.

The new robot system, developed by a team led by Dr Mats Gustafsson, professor of medical bioinformatics at Uppsala University in Sweden, finds optimal treatment combinations.

“The idea is to gradually refine combinations of substances so that they kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells,” said Dr Claes Andersson, leading scientist in the project.

Instead of just combining a couple of substances at a time, the new robot has the ability to handle on the order of a dozen drugs simultaneously.

The aim for the future is to be able to handle many more, preferably hundreds.

“We are now one among the few laboratories in the world with this type of lab robot,” Gustafsson noted.

However, researchers have only used the system to look for combinations that kills the cancer cells not taking the side effects into account.

The next step in the development is to make the robot system more automated and smarter.

The current version still involves a few manual steps that could be automated.

The scientists also want to build more prior knowledge into the guiding algorithm of the robot like prior knowledge about drug targets and disease pathways.

For patients with the same cancer type returning multiple times, sometimes the cancer cells develop resistance.

The new robot systems may also become important in the efforts to find new drug compounds that make these resistant cells sensitive again.