The Technische Universität (TUU) KIWI biolab, which has been designated as one of three international artificial intelligence (AI) future laboratories by the German government, uses AI to design experiments with the aim of understanding how cells behave.

“We cultivate various clones in parallel, and computer-controlled robots perform the fed-batch experiments and analyses automatically,” explains Peter Neubauer, PhD, who heads the department of bioprocess engineering at TU Berlin.

Experimental data is used to create “digital twins” of the cells that can be used for computer-based process development, he says.

Neubauer developed the automated laboratory to multiply the number of cell lines he could analyze in parallel. “Currently in our facility we can do this for a large number of cells–for 48 different clones,” he adds. “We can obtain the digital twins with only a single experiment, which lasts no longer than one working day.”

According to Neubauer, the laboratory aims to use automation, robotics, and AI to generate better parameters for mathematical models.

“All biological systems are complex, and, unlike physical systems, their parameters dynamically change over time,” he says. This complexity has traditionally limited the ability of scientists to model whole cellular processes on a computer, he explains, but the combination of robotics, AI, and analytics can help.

The team use a variety of robot stations integrated with analyzers, such as a Roche Cedex Bio HT Analyzer, a Miltenyi Biotec flow cytometer, and bioreactors. A mobile lab assistant from Astechprojects carries the samples between instruments.

“If you have an expensive instrument that costs 100,000 euros, you can’t simply put all the instruments around a robot and use it once a week,” he explains. The mobile lab assistant allows other research groups to use the instruments while permitting the lab to work 24/7.

Neubauer’s team is currently working on automating the scheduling and reprograming of the robot stations. “To run sophisticated remote-controlled fermentations, we need state-of-the-art robot rescheduling, so we have some automation researchers thinking about how we can change the programs fast,” he says.

TU Berlin will be offering a laboratory tour at the World Bioprocessing Summit: Pharma 4.0 taking place in Berlin next month.