A new smart research robot may be able to accelerate research on cancer medicines by finding optimal treatment combinations.

Instead of just combining a couple of substances at a time, the system has the ability to handle dozens drugs simultaneously, and the researchers are aiming to raise this to hundreds.

“The system plans and conducts experiments with many substances, and draws its own conclusions from the results,” says Dr Claes Andersson, one of the lead scientists in the project. “The idea is to gradually refine combinations of substances so that they kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.”

Dr Mats Gustafsson, professor of medical bioinformatics at Uppsala University and the study leader, adds: “We are now among the few laboratories in the world with this type of robot. However, so far researchers have only used the systems to look for combinations that kill the cancer cells, not taking the side effects into account.”

The researchers say that the next step is to make the robot system more automated and smarter, as the current version still involves a few manual steps. They also want to build more prior knowledge into its guiding algorithm – for example, prior knowledge about drug targets and disease pathways.