Who needs a nurse? This robot can extract and analyze your blood

Watch out: Bloodthirsty robots could be on their way to a place near you. On the bright side, they may be willing to trade a cookie for your precious bodily fluids. At least, that is what we’re hoping is the result of a new robotic blood-taking device that is designed for inserting intravenous needles into people’s arms with the purpose of drawing and then analyzing blood samples.

Developed by researchers from Rutgers University, the robotic device is comprised of three subsystems. First up is a robotic venipuncture device, which uses near-infrared and ultrasound imaging to localize blood vessels, image analysis to reconstruct the vessels in 3D, and then miniaturized robotics to place a needle in the center of the indicated vein. Once a blood sample has been taken, it is then moved — using a sample handling module — to an analysis unit. This part of the system provides blood measurements using a miniaturized centrifuge and microscope. At present, it can perform a three-part white blood cell differential and hemoglobin measurement.

Max Balter

“Diagnostic blood testing is the most common medical routine performed in the world, and forms the cornerstone of modern medicine,” Dr. Max Balter, who led the research, told Digital Trends. “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, and diagnostic results are generated almost exclusively in centralized labs from large-volume blood samples using labor-intensive analytical techniques. Our team at Rutgers University has developed a device that enables end-to-end testing by performing blood draws and providing diagnostic results in a fully automated fashion. 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 robot has only been tested on artificial arms to demonstrate that it works effectively. The next step is to evaluate the safety of the venipuncture device in a small human feasibility study. This will allow the team to evaluate the design, form factor, and usability of the device. Ultimately, the hope is that technology such as this could be used to combine blood drawing and laboratory testing in a one-stop-shop of point-of-care testing.

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Technology.

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