Viewpoint on Virtual Laboratories by John Hamlin

Pharmacies and laboratories have evolved extensively over time with innovative designs and easy and safe delivery of drugs and medication to hospitals and care homes. Initially, pharmacies were regarded as an intermediate step between laboratories and hospitals. However, with advancements in technology pharmacies now play an important role as a substitute for hospital care in terms of prescribing medicines and providing immediate care to vulnerable patients. In terms of computation, machine learning algorithms and programming has been popularly adapted in pharmacies for managing inventory, locating medicines, and even recording prescriptions and chemicals. Most pharmacies have switched to software record keeping rather than hard copy book records. Rapid advances in the field are taking place due to a need to update the overall healthcare system to facilitate the world population.

In recent advances, Penguin Innovations in collaboration with Purdue University, have successfully developed a virtual interactive cleanroom (VIC) for laboratories and pharmacies. It provides hands-on experience of a potential laboratory environment to pupils and researchers without having to visit a lab physically. The software enables users to select the required PPEs for entering a cleanroom as part of a general protocol along with cleanliness guidelines like proper washing of hands. Further, they are able to navigate through the doors and reach their desks for preparation of medicines. Features of this software are so detailed that they also provide them with the measured amount of medicine/chemicals for drug development. Design of the software is extremely interactive and is inspired by video-games, which makes it more desirable and fun for pupils and researchers to use.

The purpose of introducing VIC was to familiarize students and researchers with the sterile environment of a cleanroom and to train on related techniques, process flow, and guidelines related to maintaining a safe environment. These cleanrooms can be accessed from anywhere in the world and encourage students to interact with sensitive processing of products like medications, and diluents, selection of products and related measurements, identifying any inappropriate or misplaced object, proper washing of hands and overall cleanliness, and correct disposal of waste.

Virtual classrooms have become popular recently amid the pandemic situation all across the globe. The world has switched online during the Covid-19 crisis including all sectors including education, businesses, retail, and healthcare, wherever possible. Strict advice to stay at home was issued to avoid the spread of virus compelling people to work from home amid crisis situations. This had a high impact on people physically, mentally, and financially with a wide range of businesses closing down. Shifting businesses online with new resources and management techniques has paved the way for a more resourceful future for economies.

Taking their innovation of virtual cleanrooms for pharmacies and laboratories further, virtual pharmacies and laboratories can be the future of healthcare. This would help cut down the cost immensely as it would be majorly based on software and algorithms. Though it may require a lot of efforts and brainstorming by researchers and computer professionals, it would be a marked breakthrough in the field of medicine. A wide range of pharmacies have already switched online during the lockdown in 2020. If a virtual system to develop medicines and work out laboratory samples can be developed that would help the healthcare staff in this sector to be able to work from home as most of the other professionals, thus, reducing their chances of catching the virus. Especially because healthcare professionals are more susceptible to the virus.

Ideally, algorithms are to be designed to virtually assist laboratory staff in observing samples, recording data, working with chemicals and diluents, accessing equipment remotely, generating and analyzing results, and proper disposal of waste. This innovation is possible with the combination of machine algorithms and artificial intelligence. A thorough machine learning study may also help automate processes with the help of virtual motion studies categorizing similar tasks based on predictive analysis on account of previous tasks performed by the user.

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