In collaboration with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), ABB Robotics has developed an automated neutralising antibody testing method that provides the most accurate way to assess a person’s immunity to different strains of Covid. Thanks to this technology, between 15 and more than 1,000 neutralising antibody tests are performed every day. Automating the tests will help UTMB researchers better understand the effectiveness of vaccines as more people are tested for protection against different strains of Covid virus.
In their quest to stop and slow the spread of the Covid virus, medical experts and governments face a major hurdle. Although vaccines have been developed, it is difficult to determine which would provide the best defence due to the rapid mutation of the virus.
According to Michael Laposata, professor and chair of UTMB’s Department of Pathology, being able to do more testing every day is essential to learn more about personal immune patterns that will help limit the spread of the virus. The automated system we have developed with ABB offers an accurate, fast, flexible and safe way to achieve our goals, transforming the speed at which testing can be done and eliminating the need for large numbers of laboratory staff to expose themselves to the potential risk of infection in manual testing. It claims to reduce the need for multiple laboratory workers to potentially expose themselves to the risk of infection.
The aim of the automated neutralising antibody test, which is the reference standard for Covid-19 serological tests, is to selectively identify a neutralising antibody to SARS-CoV-2 without cross-reactivity with another infection that does not cross-react with other infections. The results will be used by both the test subject and researchers to obtain further information on immunity to the disease or vaccination.
According to Daniel Navarro, General Manager of ABB’s Consumer Segments and Service Robotics, this initiative is an excellent illustration of how robots can improve speed and efficiency while making work safer for the researchers involved. We are working closely with UTMB to create and deploy an automated robotic solution that will dramatically improve and guide our response to the Covid pandemic. This solution will leverage our expertise in biology, laboratory procedures, automation and software.

The offline programming software RobotStudio was used to model, test and refine various laboratory apparatus layouts and robot postures for automated neutralising antibody testing. Compared to the typical time required for such a project, an operational system was developed in 18 months.
Juan Garcia, Director of Laboratory Services at UTMB, described what we have achieved in this project in such a short time as “extraordinary”, noting that many multi-million dollar companies take years to create solutions similar to the one we have developed in a fraction of the time.
The development and modelling of a practical idea in the RobotStudio programme, as well as the provision of real automated test cells, was made possible by ABB and the other partners involved in this project. Laposata has been in the industry for 35 years, and this has been its best collaboration experience so far.

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