We sat down over a virtual cup of coffee in July 2020 to interview Sean Veale and Holly Lombardo from the software team at RedShiftBio.
Editor: Morning, thank you both for joining us today. Can you tell us a bit about your role at RedShiftBio?
SV: I am the Director of Software Development at RedShiftBio since mid-2017. Following our scrum-based methodology* I give direction and overall vision for the RSB Software ensuring it fits together as a coherent and easy-to-use offering, as well as SQA activities validating functional correctness. I tend to explore all aspects of the instrument and as such am a useful resource in the complex algorithms that make the AQS3pro function as well as it does. Finally, I perform a lot of mentoring and team building work in my role from which I gain great personal satisfaction.
*We better be using Scrum with Scrum.org upstairs from us!
HL: I am currently the Documentation Manager/SQA, with responsibilities that include writing all customer-facing documentation (User Guides, Tech Notes, etc.), I author and help format Standard Operating Procedures and Work Instructions for Manufacturing and Service, and I have become proficient with Adobe Suite so I also provide help w/Marketing materials. My Software Quality Assurance (SQA) role has me writing the 21 CFR and base-system regression testing plans and I execute these as a “software tester”.
Editor: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was your journey to working at RSB?
HL: My journey has been unexpectedly “perfect” in preparing me for my role as Document Manager at RSB. I graduated with a MS in Cell Biology from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Most of my career has been spent in Biotech as a Protein Chemist/Product Evaluation Scientist, R&D/MFG and Technical Writing.
SV: I have always considered myself a curious mind, often exploring out of the way areas and my technical career has followed suit. I also graduated from WPI with degrees in physics and history which allowed me to explore a wide variety of projects in both the scientific and historical realms including working on chemical storage safety topics with a team for 8 weeks at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok Thailand. After school I started at an instrumentation company working on updating test software for thermal cyclers for Y2K support, and have explored a wide variety of projects, technologies, and software development models over the years.
Editor: What is unique about the RSB software? How does it benefit users?
HL: The software is very user-friendly and because it has been used by our engineers, applications, and customer-facing employees from an early stage, it is complete and easy for all levels and users to navigate. I also have seen first-hand (in my role as software quality assurance tester) how well the software group is organized, how well they collaborate and how logically they approach all features; this shows in the user interface because it is intuitive and easy to navigate.
SV: In addition to being easy to use I like the fact that the software wraps together both the data collection and data processing aspects of a spectroscopic-based instrument into one coherent workflow. This makes it easy for end users to generate and process the data into reports, for importing to Electronic Lab Notebooks, or other data aggregation schemes. It is straightforward to reprocess and compare different runs of data to see how different batches perform against each other, or what changes different stressors cause to the samples.
Editor: Please describe the addition of 21 CFR compliance.
SV: The CFR-21 specification is geared to cGMP and other regulated users to allow them to provide confidence that their data is secure and tamper proof. The CFR-21 specification has three main pillars, data security, audit trails/role based access, and electronic signatures that enable the client organizations to ensure their data is appropriately controlled, with a clear chain of custody from initial collection through final processing. The AQS3delta software has all these features built-in making it easy for the end users to manage their data and permissions as needed without relying on the time-consuming configuration of built in windows security features.
Editor: What are the key features of the software?
HL: The software supports 24-well plates and 96-well plates. A user can easily perform automated analysis of their samples on a number of workflows. On top of the automation and ease-of-use, the quality and sensitivity of the system to “see change” in very small secondary structure moieties is made easy using the Data Analysis processing features.
SV: Beyond the excellent answers Holly gave, the software presents easy to understand error recovery options in case something does go wrong, so that precious samples can either be preserved or the most data as possible collected from an automated well plate run. Another key feature is the software allows for easy creation of model proteins from your collected data, allowing an in-house spectrographic library to be built up over time as an aid in quantitation. Finally, the software does a very good job of water and buffer subtraction from your sample data, ensuring you do not have to think about these easy-to-get-wrong aspects of spectroscopy instruments.
Editor: What have you learned about doing business over the past three months (COVID-19)?
HL: Because we are part of an essential industry, we have been able to continue to work towards our goals during the pandemic. Having a clear market for this technology, particularly in vaccine characterization, helps the entire industry. I’m a firm believer that in crisis there are opportunities to find niches and navigate successfully with clear goals and teamwork.
SV: A reinforcement in the policies that enables remote workers as first-class employees. The software team has always been a (US-based) remote organization and as such has the tools in place to enable continued operations. Working in the COVID-19 world it is critical to also have the policies in place to ensure those remote workers are fully engaged and connected.
Editor: What excites you most about the technology?
SV: It has lasers and robots, what's not to like?! On a more serious note I like the fact that the technology helps scientists tackle some of the hardest topics in healthcare. I personally enjoyed this webinar from Dr Valerie Daggett on how the AQS3pro technology helps characterize the aggregation of the misfolding of amyloid beta, and how the instrument is useful in monitoring the alpha sheet folded peptides to block the formation of the oligomers that make up the plaques as a potential therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease.
HL: I am most excited about the applications for which the AQS3pro has already been identified as a sensitive and highly-reproducible and complementary tool for those requiring info about secondary structure changes, and for those that are yet to be identified. Plus, I see daily the innovation and problem solving performed by our engineers, so I am already excited about yet-to-be features, improvements and applications not yet determined.
Editor: If you could say one thing to potential users of the AQS3pro, what would it be?
HL: “You will be pleased with the features, usability and possibilities that the AQS3pro provides to your characterization of biomolecules”.
SV: “You are getting a lovingly crafted and supported instrument that will enable you to work with your molecules in a way you haven’t been able to before.”
Editor: What do you like to do in your free time?
HL: I am a professional artist in my “free time”. I started painting with watercolors after college and now paint New England inspired landscapes in acrylic on canvas for the past 15 years. I was on the Summer 2017 LL Bean catalog cover and I am represented by 9 galleries across New England and Park City, UT (www.HollyLombardoArt.com).
SV: It has been as varied as my working career. Currently I am active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. (www.sca.org) The SCA is a worldwide organization dedicated to the research and recreation of the activities that could have happened in medieval through renaissance times. I am personally active in some of the martial aspects of the society and researching and creating awards texts based on wordings that would have been used in the period. In addition, during social distancing of our times I have taken up marathon training.
Editor: Thanks guys, that was very interesting.