Digitisation of the workplace has been slowly evolving for many years – first with the emergence and reliance on email, followed
by conferencing tools, and of course, the emergence of web-based storage and document co-authoring.
Workplace changes necessitated by the COVID pandemic have accelerated this adoption, forcing companies to re-think the ways in which they do business, and pushing the agenda for more agile ways of working.
Organisations found that working from home was no longer a privilege but a necessity and the acceptance of anywhere working became much more the office norm, now possible with collaborative project spaces and other online teams-centric applications. But how does this translate for those working in the field of science, and structure-based drug design (SBDD) in particular?
SBDD, like all pre-clinical drug development, is an activity intrinsically tied to a highly specialised lab environment where scientific experts drive and manage the discovery process. The restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by COVID therefore heavily impacted discovery efforts where activities couldn’t be pivoted to in silico methods or outsourced. Pipelines were also put on hold in favour of more critical COVID led research and teams were forced to collaborate more widely to resource and tackle the challenges of finding new therapeutics to stop the pandemic. This could not have happened without the help of technology.
Physical access to central research infrastructures was also impacted during the pandemic. For many research groups this meant an end to often exciting but exhausting multi-day trips to the synchrotron, with teams of scientists working in shifts around the clock to collect data from hundreds of crystals.
Luckily, this hasn’t meant a drop in measurement throughput though, as Diamond was perfectly placed to leverage its previous investment in remote and mail-in services to continue to deliver SBDD services. In fact, with a concerted effort from dedicated legal, user, sample, and data management teams within the integrated synchrotron campus, Diamond has been able to drive even faster turnaround times for macromolecular crystallography (MX) experiments and offer more flexible modes of access, such as fully unattended or remote access.
With a return to normality and a lifting of restrictions it now appears that many research groups are choosing to maintain this mode of operation as it better suits their ways of working, increases throughput, and minimises costs.
Although a much lower throughput method than MX, cryo-EM at Diamond has also fully embraced the remote services model pioneered by the MX teams to take advantage of the flexibility now offered by collaboration software and a dedicated sample logistics team.
Clients can now send their frozen grids in the mail for screening or data collection. You can choose to drive the microscopes remotely or can take advantage of Diamond's in-house expertise to simply receive results and data; whatever your needs and levels of experience within your labs, we have the flexibility to meet your requirements.
By leveraging the ever-increasing autonomy of the data collection software from our partners Thermo Fisher Scientific and Diamond’s data processing environments, our users can now spend more time on analysis and discovery rather than on the logistics of data capture.
As a high-investment technique, both in terms of human and instrument capital, accessing cryo-EM services on demand at Diamond's eBIC for Industry offers significant scope for cost savings by only applying the technique when SBDD projects are mature enough.
Our industry-dedicated microscopes and team of experts also have sufficient capacity to scale-up measurements when a project reaches the campaign stage and, unlike academic centres, can offer rapid and frequent / recurrent access; all available under a secure and confidential legal framework.
Our newly upgraded Glacios now also provides even faster data collection (~ 450 movies per hour) and higher resolution with the installation of the Falcon 4i detector. This means you can rapidly screen your grids to assess the quality of your samples before moving to higher-resolution and multi-grid campaigns on the Krios microscope. We make your experiment hassle-free by handling sample storage, or returns and can sync your data to your storage service of choice.
Whether you are part of an experienced lab team looking to expand your capacity, or just starting your journey of evaluating cryo-EM’s place in your discovery pipelines, our remote services provide a range of options to suit your needs. We offer remote training opportunities, on a bespoke training basis or through one of our regular sessions to get you up to speed.
With this support under your belt, you’ll be ready to fly with the technique. What’s stopping you?!
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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