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Ask the Expert

Managing Workflows

Andrea Ong is the lab manager of the Industrial Pharmacy Laboratory (IPhL) at the University
of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lauren Everett

Andrea Ong is the lab manager of the Industrial Pharmacy Laboratory (IPhL) at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ong is also a PhD candidate in Pharmaceutics at USciences. She has experience in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, and worked as a research assistant in IPhL prior to becoming lab manager.

Q: What type of work does the Industrial Pharmacy Lab specialize in, and how does your team stay at the forefront of research?

A: The IPhL specializes in pharmaceutical research, including preformulation and formulation studies, analytical method development, and PK/PD modeling. Our location at the University of the Sciences helps keep us up to date with the latest techniques and research. We are very fortunate to have accomplished faculty willing to share their expertise and facilities with IPhL.

Q: What are some of the key instrumentation/technologies used in the lab and what are they used for?

A: Some of the key instrumentation and technologies used in the lab include both our processing and analytical equipment, such as the microfluidizer, spray dryer, and tablet press, as well as our dissolution apparatus, HPLC, and LC/MS/MS, to name a few. We have used our microfluidizer and spray dryer extensively while researching liposome and microparticle drug delivery systems. Once the formulations are made, we can determine how much of the drug is either loaded or released through HPLC analysis. The LC/MS/MS is particularly useful in separating and identifying compounds and giving us information on how much there is.

Q: What type of workflow management system or methods do you have in place to keep track of projects?

A: Our system consists of scheduling with shared calendars and weekly meetings to keep track of project timelines and planning experiments.

Q: How has the continued development of informatics tools such as LIMS and Lab Information Systems in recent years helped lab managers and lab staff streamline their processes?

A: For IPhL, it has helped us manage our internal stockroom and chemical purchases as we grow. IPhL has grown over the past few years, and having a LIMS in place has been useful to track purchases of our chemicals and consumables, especially as new equipment is acquired and projects are started.

Q: Are there any pain points to these systems or workflow management in general that could be further improved upon?

A: These systems are great tools— when used by everyone in the laboratory. Something we are working on improving is using the system and keeping it updated so that we can get the most we can out of the LIMS. We recognize that this will further streamline processes and allow us to make smarter decisions regarding vendors and purchasing, but have yet to fully implement it. These systems are still relatively new to labs, and there is a learning curve to it. We believe with increased use among everyone in IPhL, it can be a powerful system.

Q: As the lab continues to evolve and research progresses, are there any challenges in managing workflow among your team?

A: Right now, our group is small enough that we can communicate easily about planned experiments, upcoming deadlines, and equipment and instrument usage. The challenge lies in time management and planning experiments in advance to accommodate multiple research projects.

Q: How do you deal with those challenges?

A: To deal with the challenges really takes some planning at the beginning of the week or advanced notice to all users if the equipment will be used for an extended period of time. A small group is both a blessing and a curse in that it is much easier to coordinate and plan experiments, but at the same time, there are a limited number of us. To help with this, we designate one or two people to be the “instrument expert” in the laboratory to keep a piece of equipment running smoothly and efficiently to minimize downtime.

Q: Any advice for lab professionals struggling to manage workflow or that want to improve their system?

A: The important thing is to find a system that works for your lab, which may mean trying out a system for a bit. There are so many different programs to choose from that not all will work for every lab. A LIMS allows us to keep track of our chemicals in our stockroom and make appropriate purchasing decisions, and as an expanding laboratory, it is essential for us to keep track of chemical usage and vendors. It’s also important to communicate with labmates to keep everyone on the same page. Online and cloud-based systems have the potential to work well, but they are only as good as the users.