Tuesday 28 March 2023

The Importance of HMI in Pharmaceuticals

Image: By Peter Morville; Andrew Lehti - https://oryzo.com/user-interface-design/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84148478

Human-machine interfaces (HMI) allow users to interact with controllers by engaging with hardware or software, typically to influence industrial equipment. Many products under the HMI umbrella are incredibly familiar and low-tech, including keyboards and mice. However, people can also use touch-sensitive screens and virtual reality (VR) headsets. Here are vital details about the importance of HMI in pharmaceuticals.

By Emily Newton

Improving Training Through Interactive Methods


Pharmaceutical industry training can be intense because of strict regulations and the need to take extraordinary care when manufacturing products that patients ingest or inject. However, people are exploring how technologies such as VR and augmented reality (AR) could make training more effective and interesting. 



For example, students at Ireland’s Technological University Dublin can learn powder-handling techniques while wearing VR headsets. Estimates suggest pharmaceutical companies could save up to $1,079 weekly by using this approach to worker education.


Students who can learn fundamental techniques in a virtual environment will likely grasp the necessary skills before applying them in the real world. Thus, VR could sharpen their skills, minimizing the chances of making mistakes that cost money or put themselves and others at risk.


Similarly, AR can provide visual reminders in physical spaces. These are especially useful to people early in their pharmaceutical careers or those with low confidence. AR hardware or software might remind people to put on gowns before entering a room. Employees could also pull up digital checklists on AR devices. That enables them to refer to the correct process steps while keeping their hands free and engaging with content that seems to float in the air.


These examples highlight the importance of HMI for giving pharmaceutical workers the information they need to work safely and productively. However, other industries are also rapidly adopting VR and AR-based HMI technology. Data from Statista estimates 21 million such enterprise-based devices will be used worldwide by 2030.

Supporting Automation Plans


Automation is another area where the importance of HMI in pharmaceuticals becomes evident. Decision-makers within and outside the pharmaceutical industry frequently choose to automate processes whenever feasible. That brings more consistency to operations and decreases the likelihood of errors that could lead to product recalls, regulatory scrutiny, lost profits and other undesirable outcomes. Automated technologies are not error-proof but work well when applied to repetitive actions, such as those occurring in a pharmaceutical plant.


HMI can alert people to problems before they become catastrophic. Considering the worth of the collective products manufactured by most pharmaceutical plants, being warned about disruptive issues could protect the bottom line and associated operations.


Pharmaceutical decision-makers also invest in HMI when initiating or improving their automation plans. One 2023 study found 75% of pharmaceutical companies want to increase their use of automated solutions. The rising trends of more injectables and individualized drugs drove that outcome.


In one real-life instance related to injectables, a contract manufacturer invested in a fully automated fill/finish line that dispensed products into containers, including syringes and vials. The associated system has a programmable logic controller and a human-machine interface with a touch-screen panel. This solution can process up to 3,000 units every hour.


This use of automation ensures the sterility of injectable drugs. That’s critical for helping pharmaceutical companies meet quality control goals and reduce recalls. However, this is just one example that highlights the importance of HMI in pharmaceuticals. Automated solutions that incorporate human-machine interfaces will become more prominent as companies in this space face increasing demands to produce more products in a shorter time without sacrificing safety.

Revealing the Importance of HMI Through Further Research


Researchers continually look for new and creative ways to use HMI in their work. Many of these efforts could impact pharmaceutical companies and numerous other industries.


In one recent example, a North Carolina State University team created a stretchable strain sensor that’s more sensitive and versatile than other options. The researchers tested their innovation by building wearable sensors to measure blood pressure and back movement. They also made a human-machine interface that involved a 3D touch controller that let someone engage with a video game.


It’s easy to see how pharmaceutical companies could benefit from both those test applications. Using such sensors to monitor people’s vital signs or activity levels could be useful once a new drug reaches the human trials stage, allowing leaders to get more accurate data about a product’s effectiveness and possible safety risks. Plus, sensors that enable people to control a video game bode well for future applications that could be more tailored to industrial environments.


In another case, UCLA and Stanford University researchers built encrypted human-machine interface technology that details a person’s physiology. A signal-interpretation framework and hydrogel-coated chemical sensors provide specifics about someone’s blood composition, including the pharmaceuticals in it.


That could be useful to tell scientists at pharmaceutical companies necessary specifics about why patients react to drugs in certain ways, including how quickly they metabolize them. Such information could help in the early stages of product development and during clinical trials.

The Importance of HMI Is Clear


This overview shows that human-machine interfaces have played an essential role in the pharmaceutical industry and will continue to influence it. The sector requires tight operating standards, and options that improve how people interact with machines are welcomed because they can reduce errors and maintain high output.


Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (http://www.pharmamicroresources.com/)

Monday 27 March 2023

Synchrotron X-ray diffraction and fluorescence reveals more about the nature of biofilms


Image by Kaspar Kallip - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45334128

Biofilms are multicellular microbial communities made of bacterial cells surrounded by a network of secreted biopolymers. Biofilms enable bacteria to attach on surfaces and the extracellular matrix barrier structurally isolates bacterial cells from external environmental fluctuations. For instance, biofilms can confer bacterial cell protection against mechanical stress and toxins like antimicrobials and disinfectants.


While the bacterial cells are genetically identical, their different phenotypes within biofilms allow the communities to respond differently to nutrients and oxygen levels, as well as threats.


Spatiotemporal gene expression analyses are the most common methods used to understand biofilm-associated phenotypic heterogeneity at the molecular level. Spatiotemporal gene expression is the activation of genes within specific tissues of an organism at specific times during development. Gene activation patterns vary widely in complexity.


Despite the method, it remains unknown how the elemental and structural properties of biofilms differ across space and time because most studies digest biofilms before analyzing the isolated molecules for their quantities.


New methods can reveal the importance of the physicochemical properties of the molecules secreted by the cells in a biofilm. This leads to the differential distribution of nutrients that propagate through macroscopic length scales and hence different biofilm properties.


An alternative technique is X-ray diffraction. This method can help to determine the structures of molecules present in a sample using electron densities of diffracted X-rays. A second method is X-ray fluorescence, which can be used to detect emissions of characteristic fluorescent X-rays from a material that is bombarded with high energy X-rays for elemental analysis.


Such technologies have shown how TasA fibers can greatly influence how stable the biofilms are and explain for differences in structural stability between old and young biofilms. TasA proteins can form fibers into three different morphologies: aggregate in acidic conditions, form thin and long fibrils at high salt concentration, and establish fiber bundles at high protein and salt concentrations. Thin and long fibrils were most common in young biofilms (1-2-day-old), showing that as biofilm ages, the proportion of TasA fibers could change a biofilm’s mechanical integrity.


Researchers have made use of both methods to scan intact Bacillus subtilis biofilm samples of different ages. This revealed spatiotemporal division of four main components including water, spores, extracellular matrix, and metal ion. The data shows how these components interact to affect processes like sporulation and polymer fibril formation.


One observation made is where water is bound in biofilm wrinkles and the role of wrinkles acting as water channels for nutrient transport and waste removal. Biofilm wrinkles could serve as channels filled with water to transfer nutrients across biofilms, and the water in wrinkles is not freely floating.


Importantly, bacterial spores can survive long periods of dehydration without detectable damage, and the presence of water can trigger germination. In terms of signalling when germination may be possible, spore coat protein swelling in biofilms may serve as humidity sensors for spore germination.


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (http://www.pharmamicroresources.com/)

Friday 24 March 2023

Meet the latest extremophile: Sulfurimonas pluma

Image: Enceladus black smoker at the Aurora Vent Field (Source: HACON cruise 2021, REV Ocean)

How does microbial life survive deep in the ocean? Disconnected from the energy of the sun, the permanently ice-covered Arctic deep sea receives miniscule amounts of organic matter that could sustain life.


By Tim Sandle


Deep down in the ocean at tectonic plate boundaries, hot fluids rise from hydrothermal vents. These fluids are devoid of oxygen and contain large amounts of metals such as iron, manganese or copper. Some may also transport sulphides, methane and hydrogen. As the hot water mixes with the cold and oxygenated surrounding seawater, hydrothermal plumes develop containing smoke-like particles of metal sulphide. These plumes can rise hundreds of meters off the seafloor and disperse thousands of kilometres away from their source. 



The bacteria that exist in such extreme environments can harvest the energy released from submarine hydrothermal sources. Certain bacteria have adapted to the geo-energy floating in deep-sea waters by undertaking biogeochemical cycling.


Scientists from Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology have been examining bacteria of the genus Sulfurimonas. These bacteria have only grow in low-oxygen environments and their gene sequences have occasionally been detected in hydrothermal plumes.


These organisms use energy from sulphide and it appears that plumes might be a suitable environment for some members of the Sulfurimonas group.


Sulfurimonas is a bacterial genus within the class of Campylobacterota, known for reducing nitrate, oxidizing both sulphur and hydrogen. This genus consists of four species: Sulfurimonas autorophica, Sulfurimonas denitrificans, Sulfurimonas gotlandica, and Sulfurimonas paralvinellae. The genus' name is derived from "sulfur" (US spelling; ‘sulphur’ UK spelling).


Numerous environmental sequences and isolates of Campylobacterota have also been recovered from hydrothermal vents and cold seep habitats.


The size of the bacteria varies between about 1.5-2.5 μm in length and 0.5-1.0 μm in width. Members of the genus Sulfurimonas are found in a variety of different environments which include deep sea-vents, marine sediments, and terrestrial habitats. Their ability to survive in extreme conditions is attributed to multiple copies of an enzyme.


The researchers sampled plumes in extremely remote areas of ultraslow spreading ridges that had never been studied before. With the samples, the scientists studied the composition and metabolism of bacteria.


Here the scientists identified a new Sulfurimonas species called USulfurimonas pluma (the superscript "U" stands for uncultivated) inhabiting the cold, oxygen-saturated hydrothermal plumes.


This microorganism used hydrogen from the plume as an energy source, rather than sulphide. The scientists also investigated the microbes' genome and found it to be strongly reduced, missing genes typical for their relatives, but being well-equipped with others to allow them to grow in this dynamic environment.


These organisms have adapted to live in an ecological niche that is cold, oxygen-saturated and consists of hydrogen-rich hydrothermal plumes.


The research appears in the journal Nature Microbiology, titled “A hydrogenotrophic Sulfurimonas is globally abundant in deep-sea oxygen-saturated hydrothermal plumes.”


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (http://www.pharmamicroresources.com/)

Special offers