Robots aid research at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation

Machines do repetitive and time-consuming tasks tirelessly.
by Don Mecoy Modified: July 25, 2011 at 7:35 pm •  Published: July 25, 2011

Gaffney also uses more complex robots, like the $600,000 machine that searches samples for changes in DNA that play a role in disease.

Cutting down time, errors

In a recent project, a research team led by Gaffney used both robots to identify a genetic variant associated with lupus and, potentially, heart disease and certain cancers. The project, which analyzed 30,000 different genetic variants, took eight months to gather data.

“Without the robots, it would probably have taken three or four years,” said Gaffney.

Another researcher, Weidong Wang, uses robots to screen libraries of chemical compounds for potential development as therapeutics for diabetes and other diseases. In one day, his machines can process 50,000 compounds.

“When a human being does something hundreds of times, sometime errors will occur. But the machine is basically error-free,” he said. “The machine does things so every time the conditions are the same.”

While robots can outperform humans at some tasks, there's no need to worry about job security.

“A robot cannot generate a hypothesis, write a grant, design an experiment or interpret the results of an experiment,” said Gaffney. “At least not yet.”

by Don Mecoy
Business Editor
Business Editor Don Mecoy has covered business news for more than a decade after earlier working on The Oklahoman's city, state and metro news desks, including a stint as city editor. He has won state and regional journalism awards for business,...
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