Laboratory Automation – only the white coats remain

If you think, like I did until a few minutes ago, that blood tests at hospitals went into a big room full of people with white coats and pipette tubes you’d be wrong… apart from the white coats!

Here’s a great case study video from Siemens showing their Aptio Automation system working at the NHS Tayside Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, UK. It combines lots of types of testing (e.g. hematology, immumolgoy, coagulation) with all the test tubes loaded onto trays and then in they go. The operators (in the white coats still) tell the system the tests required and then it’s over to the machines. The appropriate diagnostics are all done without human intervention and then stored away, with the ability to recall them for additional tests or retests.

At Ninewells they’re currently handling nearly 2,000 tubes per hour at peak times – and when that emergency sample comes in they load it onto the tray the same as any other but the tube is then fast tracked – in the video you see it literally overtaking others.

Siemens Aptio Automation system

The clinical director of the hospital says turnaround times reduced by about 25% which must have been from an already automated system as it just wouldn’t be physically possible to prepare, test and store that many sample manually in anywhere near the current processing time.

OK so it’s not yet the pin prick of blood with instant diagnosis which I’m waiting for but it’s a good start – and as always, once it’s a technology there’s nothing stopping it becoming smaller, faster and cheaper.

Video available on YouTube: Laboratory Automation Improving Patient Testing

Chip sandwich anyone? Human on a chip and chip on a cell

Two research announcements caught my eye today which show that healthcare has turned into a technology and is therefore improving exponentially.

Firstly the Institute of Microelectronics Barcelona have attached barcode chips to immature egg cells. Initially to be used for assisted reproduction when eggs need to be tracked and monitored, this could easily be modified to tag any cells which could then help with diagnosis – for example (and I’m totally guessing here) a batch of chipped cells could be injected or swallowed and then the whole body scanned to monitor where they end up – highlighted if organs are working as expected.

Then (on the other side of the chip sandwich) theres the human on a microfluidic chip. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology have created a 1:100,000 scale human being (the organs anyway) which allows drugs to be checked for toxicity and efficacy in a much more realistic environment than today’s simple tissue samples. A device like this potentially allows every organ in the body to be tested early in the drug development process, minimising the risk of problems that only occur when the drug interacts with a living human body.


And in case you’re thinking that’s still a lot of work to do all that testing – check out this video on the BBC News website showing not only automated testing, but a robot that always makes its own decisions about what to test to make it even more efficient: