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26 July 2013updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

When Big Pharma starts playing video games

"Labster" is an e-learning video game with potential.

By Elly Earls

Labster, a virtual laboratory, which contains millions of pounds worth of advanced equipment, also allows its users to perform experiments – video game style – ranging from sequencing DNA from ancient caveman bones to identifying murderers through blood samples. 

The idea is to use popular video game-esque technology to reignite students’ interest in biotechnology, a subject that many are dropping out of early in their university degrees. Indeed, according to Labster’s co-founder and CEO, Harvard graduate and biotech engineering expert Mads Bonde, technology like Labster, which uses real-world scenarios or ‘cases’ such as crime scenes and hospital bedsides, could have a big impact on science students’ drop-out rate.

“Many students drop out of their degrees at the beginning, where they have a lot of basic learning that is often far removed from the potential exciting future they are heading to,” he said. “What we can do with Labster, though, is tie the basic knowledge and basic learning – the principles they really need to understand – into why it is extremely interesting and why it has important applications.”

Bonde even goes so far as to say he believes that e-learning video games like Labster – because they are more motivating, inspiring and fun for students than traditional teaching – could revolutionise the future of science education, replacing current techniques, which are not only ineffective, but also waste valuable resources.

The new technology can also be used in the Big Pharma corporate world as a training tool for employees who need to learn how to use new machines or perform unfamiliar procedures. And, in the future, the Labster team hopes to create a “lab builder”, which will allow students and teachers to design their own labs and cases, depending on what they want to learn.

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Rather than breeding a generation of unhealthy, disease-prone layabouts, perhaps new gaming technology could do just the opposite. In fact, by inspiring the next generation of potential biotech experts to actually take the leap into careers ranging from crime scene investigation to clinical medicine, one could even go so far as to suggest that video gamers could soon be saving lives.

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