Blood tests are one of the most common diagnostic procedures in the world. Checking cholesterol levels for a routine physical? Blood test. Checking blood cell count for a suspected infection? Blood test. Diagnose a disease, check organ function, determine blood type—blood test, blood test, blood test.
But for a procedure that’s so common and repetitive, the time cost of drawing and analyzing a blood sample can sometimes be subpar. Many times, doctors are unable to draw the blood samples themselves and must rely on phlebotomists, who then themselves have to rely on labs to analyze the results. The findings are valuable, of course, but the multi-step process can sometimes eat valuable time.
And let’s not forget the many styles and techniques necessary to successfully “stick” a patient without mess, drama, or contaminating the sample. We covered the topic in this recent post.
Enter the Rutgers University Blood Testing Robot.
Robots, by design, exist to take over repetitive tasks. Most commonly, those tasks exist within the manufacturing realm, but more and more, tasks within the world of medicine are falling to the machines (we also explored a few of those machines in this post).
But the Rutgers University Blood Testing Robot takes automation to a new level. Not only does it take over the task of drawing a blood sample, but it analyses the sample as well—saving doctors and nurses valuable time.
“This device represents the holy grail in blood testing technology,” says Martin L. Yarmush, the study’s senior author. “Integrating miniaturized robotic and microfluidic (lab-on-a-chip) systems, this technology combines the breadth and accuracy of traditional blood drawing and laboratory testing with the speed and convenience of point-of-care testing.”
The robot itself consists of three parts. The first part (the venipuncture arm) draws the blood sample by scanning the patient’s arm and creating a 3D model of the arm veins. After the needle is inserted, the second part of the machine obtains and protects the blood sample, delivering it to the third part—a built in centrifuge that analyzes the blood.
“In the U.S., for example, blood tests are performed 2 billion times each year and influence 80 percent of medical decisions made in hospital and primary care settings. However, blood draw success rates depend heavily on practitioner skill and patient physiology,” explains Dr Max Balter, one of the lead researchers. “By reducing turnaround times, the device has the capacity to expedite hospital workflow, allowing practitioners to devote more time to treating patients.”
So far, the machine has performed with 100% accuracy—a very impressive performance. And even the size is convenient. The prototype easily fits on a table, resembling the automatic blood pressure machines you see at local pharmacies.
Currently, the machine performs a “three-part white blood cell differential and hemoglobin measurement”, but developers hope to expand the available tests in the near future.
As far as nurses are concerned, however, there’s no fear of a robot replacing them any time soon. But a robot making a nurse’s job easier? That’s looking more and more likely by the day.