About 7000 diseases currently affect humans, yet only about 500 have any treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration (a US government agency that, among other things, regulates drugs). So if you happen to be one of the people unfortunate enough to get one of those 6500 diseases, doctors can do nothing for you.
The process of developing a new intervention is slow and expensive; the average length of time from discovery of a therapeutic target to approval of a new drug currently is about 14 years.
Right now, robots are working to solve this problem.
At the NIH Chemical Genomics Center in Rockville, Md., a state-of-the-art lab uses robots to search for new treatments. Machines work around-the-clock, testing hundreds of thousands of compounds against a variety of mostly rare diseases.
In a traditional lab, workers deliver tear-size drops of chemicals into wells on plastic plates that contain cells from patients. Scientists then look for any successful attack on the cells. Robots perform this work at the NIH lab, untiring, faster than human hands.
These robots can perform 3 million tests every week on a different disease. If a person were to perform all of these tests by hand, it would take him 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 12 years. To do exactly the same that this robot does in a week.
This robot is changing the way we cure diseases, and in time it could save millions of lives.