No risks, more fun: a virtual cleanroom simulator offers hazard-free “hands-on experience” for prospective pharmaceutical workers.
By Alexandra Hinz
A cleanroom is a highly specialized facility, typically used for the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products. As a controlled environment with air-filtering devices and stable environmental conditions, it is supposed to remain (almost) sterile, completely free of dust, microbes and other pollutants at all times. Since any small mistake might lead to contamination and thus dangerous consequences for human health, environment and the factory, a cleanroom should only ever be entered by qualified professionals.
Yet, what about novice pharmaceutical workers? How can they be efficiently trained to operate in a cleanroom without being given direct access? A recent research paper by Maria Denami from the University of Strasbourg, published in Pharmaceutical Technology in Hospital Pharmacy, presents an innovative solution offering “hands-on experience” without associated hazards: the first-ever virtual cleanroom simulator LabQuest1.
To test the efficiency of the simulation a sample group of 45 people was put together, none of whom had any previous work experience in aseptic environments. In the beginning of the study all participants were sent into a converted university office serving as a “pretend-cleanroom”. They were then asked to perform a number of procedures such as disinfecting their hands, cleaning surfaces or replacing a petri dish.
Slipping into the role of a professional cleanroom worker as an avatar
Next, the sample group was split into two. The first group trained in the simulated 3D environment LabQuest at the computer, following a virtual path filled with educational content on contamination control. Instructions had to be read and then immediately be put into action by an avatar. The second group followed a traditional training protocol, receiving the exact same information as the other group, but only by reading a document on “Good Manufacturing Practice” (GMP).
After testing the subjects’ skills again in a physical environment the results showed that the participants who trained in the virtual cleanroom performed significantly better than those who followed the traditional training protocol. Also, when watching a video of other people performing critical procedures in pharmaceutical manufacturing, the first group was able to recognize more errors.
The preliminary results of the study seem promising. Will there be a measureable positive impact of this new pedagogical tool on pharmaceutical production incidents? Future investigations in cooperation with industrial partners might tell.
1 Software developed by the French company WhiteQuest and LISEC (the Interuniversity Laboratory of Educational Sciences and Communication).
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