Explore one of our labs

Our research teams test thousands of compounds in the search for a new medicine. It takes many years and an investment of millions of Swiss francs. This lab in Basel is one of the first stages in that long journey.

 

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Go inside a lab where new medicines are made

Hello, I am Christian, a biochemistry technician at Roche. I’ve been working for several years in immunoassay development.

Today, I am preparing plates for immune-staining, a technique that lets us visualize specific proteins within a cell. To do so, we add an antibody that reacts specifically with only one type of protein, and like a homing pigeon carrying a message, that antibody carries a fluorescent marker. After washing the cells, only those possessing the protein in question will appear fluorescent under a microscope. In this way, we can see if and how much of a specific protein the cells express, which gives us insight into the mechanism of action and safety of potential drugs. You can see an example of immunostaining on the graphics pasted on the cupboard!

Learn more about immunoassays here

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Hi, my name is Elodie. I have a master’s in Pharmacology and have been working in this field for four years.

What you see me doing here is measuring the protein concentration of my probes by adding a colorant to the plate that reacts specifically to the amount of protein in my sample. Once the reaction is complete, I can quantify the amount of protein by measuring the intensity of the color with a dedicated machine. This is one of many assays we perform to assess the safety of a potential drug.

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Hello. I’m Christine, a biology technician at Roche with several years of experience in assay development.

Today, I am creating a dilution series as part of a mitotoxicity assay. This is an important safety test that lets us see if a potential drug candidate influences the normal duplication behavior, or mitosis, of cells, and therefore might affect processes where normal cell replication is important, such as embryonic development. Through dilution, we are able to test the compound at different concentrations to see if there is a relation between the dose and the outcome, and measure all parameters that define the biological effect of a compound.

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This is one of many centrifuges you’ll see in a liquid handling and assay preparation lab. These centrifuges spin the sample plates or containers very fast, forcing small solid particles, such as DNA or proteins, to sink to the bottom of the vessel, while liquids remain on top. This centrifuge spins 96-well plates; each hole in each plate contains a separate sample.

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When we have temperature-sensitive compounds, we rely on this temperature-controlled microcentrifuge, which is enclosed in a container that keeps the samples cold. It spins small vessels containing suspensions very fast, so that the solid particles sink to the bottom.

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Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a procedure that revolutionized drug discovery by replicating a sample DNA over and over again, creating enough material for genetic analysis. This is a PCR machine known as a thermo-cycler. It can raise and lower the temperature of a probe during the PCR sequence, which is essential to the process. The device has a thermal block with holes in it, which hold the DNA sample and all the enzymes and reagents needed for the procedure. Specific steps of the sequence only occur at pre-determined temperatures, and the machines cycle through these heating and cooling steps repeatedly. Learn more about PCR technology here.

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We use this small mixer for tubes of samples. Pressing a tube onto the black plate causes it to shake rapidly, thoroughly mixing its contents.

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We use a large variety of pipettes like these to measure and dispense very precise amounts of liquids – down to just a few microliters.

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Our laboratory has several refrigerators for reagents and solutions that need to be stored below room temperature, such as buffers and enzymatic reagents. And no, we don’t store our lunches here; we have a great cafeteria.

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When we measure the effects of potential drug candidates on biomarkers or genes, we need absolute control over of the amount of substance and reagents used in each step. These electronic pipettes allow us to measure and dispense liquids with extreme precision.

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Like many of the instruments in our preparation lab, this mixer accepts multiple samples, helping speed up our work. It keeps them at a constant temperature while they are shaken to create a homogeneous mixture.

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We use this microcentrifuge to separate small solid particles, such as DNA or proteins, suspended in liquids. It does not spin as fast as the large laboratory centrifuges, but it is handy and sufficient for many tasks.

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This is another of our PCR machines, which allow us to replicate a sample of DNA many times so we have enough material for genetic analysis. This thermo-cycler moderates the temperature of a probe according to a pre-determined sequence necessary for the replication process. Learn more about PCR technology here.

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Most assays are performed in plates made up of 96 wells, each holding a different sample, a different concentration of the same sample, or different conditions for the manipulation. We use 12-channel pipettes, like this one, to manually fill the wells, which are organized in a 12 x 8 grid. However, unless this must be done by hand, we normally use robots to transfer liquids to our 96-well plates, ensuring efficiency and reliability.

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Once a suspension is separated by one of our centrifuges, the solid material, also called the “pellet,” sticks to the bottom of the flask. We then use a small pump like you see here to easily remove the liquid that has risen to the top.

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We kiss our frog every day hoping to see it transform into a prince or princess in a lab coat. Then he or she could help us with the work!

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We use this fluorescent microscope to photograph immune-stainings of cell culture samples. The microscope has a special light that excites the fluorochromes, which are attached to antibodies or other biochemical reagents. We can then capture pictures of and label these glowing sub-cellular structures like mitochondria, nuclei or lysosomes.

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This high-content imaging (HCI) device in the lab next door automates our cell culture imaging and analysis, and lets us measure many drug-induced effects on sub-cellular functions, such as mitochondrial respiration or cell cycles.

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The colorful squares on the right are examples of images taken with a special microscope. The bottom row captures what happens when a potential drug is added to the normal cells on top. In this case, it shows vascular leakage. The yellow diagram on the left is a simplified visual of this unwanted side effect, potentially induced by protein based drugs.

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This slide shows an example of the sophisticated 3D models we create to better understand a potential drug’s mechanism of action and safety issues in complex organs. Here, we are looking at an in vitro (laboratory) model of a liver that mimics a human liver, and can reveal toxicity and other important information before a compound is tested in vivo (in the body).

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