A robot which could lead to major breakthroughs in the treatment of challenging diseases such as chronic pain, epilepsy and dementia has been installed at an Illawarra medical research facility.
The $900,000 machine – which is the first-of-its kind in Australia – will be housed in the new electrophysiology laboratory at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI).
Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel officially opened the facility on Friday morning, and took the opportunity to take a close look at the state-of-the-art Nanion Synchropatch 384PE machine.
“This machine is an extraordinary automatic robot,” he said. “It allows scientists to measure in 384 simultaneous measurements potential new drug candidates that would be effective in diseases of the brain and nervous system.
“Diseases such as epilepsy, cardiac arrhythmia, dementia – the diseases that are most intractable and fortunately we’ve got Australian researchers working with magnificent equipment like this making breakthroughs.”
Dr Finkel said with traditional equipment, researchers could do two, maybe three experiments a day – the new machine would enable them to do up to 8000.
“The extraordinary thing about a machine like this is numbers,” he said.
“There are hundreds of thousands of compounds that are potentially going to be effective in providing the next breakthrough in treating diseases of the nervous system.
“So instead of two or three compound tests per day, a machine like this can do 384 compounds every 20 minutes so in the course of a day it can do thousands of tests.
“And the numbers make a big difference because you don’t know where the breakthrough will come from. You don’t know which compound out of 100,000 compounds will be the one and only compound that will give you your next drug candidate.”
IHMRI executive director Professor David Adams said a team of researchers from the universities of Wollongong, Sydney and NSW, and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, had put in for the grant for the machine.
The Australian Research Council’s LIEF scheme funds specialist equipment and facilities, to enable them to be shared with researchers from across the nation.
“This machine is a game changer,” Prof Adams said. “It will allow us to do things we couldn’t do before in terms of throughput – not only for drug discovery but in terms of characterising cells.”
He looked forward to using the machine in his own research, which is looking at how to develop a potent painkiller from cone snail venom.
“This machine for instance would allow us to test many different types of (cone snail) peptides to really identify the next drug for treatment of chronic pain,” he said.