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18th February 2019

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Getting to Grips with Ultra Scale-down Techniques

Author: Davy Rowan, KTP Associate

Following on from his earlier blog (click here to read), Davy Rowan gives an update on his Knowledge Trasfer Partnership with Biocatalysts and UCL.

Davy-LabI feel like I have settled into my role well, both at Biocatalysts and at UCL, and am beginning to understand the wealth of knowledge and experience I can tap into on both sides – academic, theoretical, practical, operational and so on. This will be essential as I attempt to build a full picture of the current processes at Biocatalysts and the practical implications of any process improvement or recommendation that results from this Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project. This KTP is a collaboration between the department of Biochemical Engineering at UCL and Biocatalysts to apply and embed the latest academic research into Biocatalysts, while UCL academics gain a unique opportunity to apply their research findings in the field, furthering their research and shaping the next generation of biochemical engineers.

I have now attended an MBI® industrial training course in downstream processing at UCL which was fascinating as it covered many topics that are central to my role. The course was titled “from cell to column” and it detailed each key separation step that takes place from fermentation broth to the chromatography purification steps. The application and adaption of chemical engineering techniques for biological material makes for interesting innovation and gives me valuable knowledge to bring back to Biocatalysts.

Biocatalysts is a well-established company with working downstream processing operations. A large part of my role is to reanalyse each step in this operation to ensure it is still the most effective process for us to use, and if not, research and review other possible techniques that could improve our operation. To do that at a large scale would be hugely expensive – especially once you include the manpower required and the valuable material we would have to generate and use. This is where ultra scale-down techniques can come in. Hence, I am currently looking into developing an ultra scale-down platform to mimic some of our large-scale operations so that we can (1) test if our current operation is effective (2) test other possible operations to determine if they might be more effective and (3) test various conditions at small scale. Particularly interesting will be the ability to vary the conditions at small scale and analysing the results to prove they are worth trying at large scale, for instance varying pH, temperature, bacterial strain, buffers used etc. The options are endless and these kinds of trials can be relatively cheap, that’s the beauty of using ultra scale-down techniques.

I will be attending a KTP management course shortly which I am looking forward to. The focus on professional development in this programme is fantastic, I really feel like I am being invested in having already been to multiple MBI courses, with more to come, as well as the KTP modules coming up at Ashorne Hill. Even at our first local management committee meeting there was an emphasis on what this project could do for me and my career as well as what I could do for the project, which I have to say pleasantly surprised me given I had only just started.

Davy-BreconBeaconsAlongside my professional development, I have been taking some time out to explore Wales. Most recently I’ve been out enjoying winter in the Brecon Beacons, as you can see in my photo. I think the perception of weather the Welsh seem to have about Scotland is amusing – in my experience it’s just about as rainy and cold here! Equally Scots seem to think the weather down here must be warm, which appears equally untrue here in winter. I am however looking forward to the fabled Cardiff summer!

Keep a look out for my next blog post where I’ll outline how my implementation of ultra scale-down techniques is adding value to Biocatalysts and UCL.

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