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New technologies help improve efficiency in research laboratories

By WANG XIAOYU | China Daily | Updated: 2022-05-18 09:02

In a laboratory at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, a robotic arm is busy moving vials and petri dishes to measure the amount of serum protein in drug samples-an initial step in evaluating a medication's efficacy.

"The whole procedure is automatic and very accurate," said Chen Peng, a laboratory worker at the academy's Experimental Research Center.

"If we do it manually, we can probably finish analysis of four to five samples a day, but the robotic arm is able to do as many as 40 samples a day if it works around the clock," Chen said.

The scene is a far cry from the conventional image associated with traditional Chinese medicine, which usually has people imagining an elderly man with a long beard grinding and brewing herbs in a large clay pot.

"Some of the machines had been sitting idle for years because we did not know how to integrate them efficiently in analysis," he said. "But with the introduction of the robotic arm and better knowledge of new technologies, we are now able to put them to use and increase the efficiency and precision of our experiments."

According to a five-year development plan released by the General Office of the State Council on March 29, China will build a number of national-level TCM research platforms, key clinical research centers and bases, and evidence-based medical centers as part of the measures to boost innovation in the TCM sector.

The China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences will play a central role in the process, the document added.

The laboratory where Chen works offers a peek into an array of modern technologies and tools now used by TCM researchers at the academy.

Due to the complexity of ingredients and the tradition's reliance on working by hand for centuries, scientific research in the sector had long been considered inefficient.

Yang Hongjun, director of the research center, said its aim is to be able to offer facilities and equipment to improve precision so that researchers can devote more time to tackling complicated problems.

Zhang Rongzhen, a TCM specialist at a hospital in Wuhu, Anhui province, said during an interview with China Business Journal that TCM scientists should be encouraged to use novel technologies to prove the efficacy of medicines.

She also suggested increasing support for building modern TCM laboratories in the future.

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