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Biological Research: ABLE Labs’ Quest to End Lab Burnout and Boost Experiment Reproducibility

Able Labs (official site) is a South Korean startup that wants to drastically improve the efficiency of certain types of laboratory (labs) biological workflow, especially for medium and small labs.

According to ABLE Labs, 46% of lab professionals spend more than nine hours per week on basic pipetting tasks. This might not be the most glorious work in the lab, but it still has to be done carefully and precisely. If you’re curious, you can look at this “guide to proper pipetting” to understand the steps involved.

Worse, this may contribute to a work “burnout” that 85.3% of such workers experience in this industry, even though it’s very hard to hire in that space. Perhaps the most dramatic statistic is that 70% of researchers can’t reproduce someone else’s experiment, perhaps due to the difficulty of perfectly reproducing the conditions of the initial experiment. Ultimately, pipetting tasks are seen as a major friction generator in research.

Of course, some automation exists, but both the price and complexity of today’s solutions (~200k to ~300k according to ABLE Labs) make it unaffordable for many labs, like in Academia, and very complex to learn because of a lack of good UX design.

ABLE Labs’ solution comes as two “liquid handler” products: NOTABLE and SUITABLE. The company designed them for different throughput requirements and price points. NOTABLE is a very compact device we’ve seen in action in Korea. It seems like it can be set up very quickly in any place. Designed simple workflows, the maker points out that it can support “11 ANSI/SLAS microplate slots, which can also be equipped with magnetic shaker, temperature shaker and ULPA fan filter for maximum flexibility”

The SUITABLE model is designed for more complex and higher throughput workflows. It can adapt to different types of plates, tubes, and reservoirs found in the market, and its multi-channel pipette ensures it can work very fast. Its Vacutainer rack has a capacity of 194 to 384 tubes, and its gripper can greatly reduce manual intervention, according to ABLE Labs.

The company uses a cloud-based SaaS with a seemingly better UX than your typical legacy control system to control these devices. I haven’t used it in production and am basing this opinion after looking at the general UI. One of the main added values here is that the UX is simple enough that no specialized technicians are required to design and operate the experiments.

ABLE Labs has partnered with Samsung Biologics for a proof of concept (PoC) using NOTABLE to prove the value of its products. During testing, automation costs were cut by 90%; experiments were 95% reproducible, and human intervention was reduced by 17%.

From a business standpoint, ABLE Labs wants to create an ecosystem around its machines and software where hardware sales, maintenance, and consumables would be a core proposition. At the same time, the company can also provide or integrate 3rd party ODM/OEM products for its customers as an additional means to earn revenues.

With all the proper South Korean certifications and benchmarks in hand, the core business will start there. In parallel, the company shows a sales pipeline with big names like the (south Korean) National Science Museum, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST, or Korea’s MIT), and more.

You can see these two products at CES if you want to get a feel for what the UX looks like. We like the idea of having more affordable and optimized medical research tools because that will certainly do some good on a global scale.

Filed in Medical. Read more about , , and .

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