Robots are Getting Ready for Clinical Laboratoriesby Puja Das October 27, 2020
Will a Laboratory Robot replace Human Workforce?
People looking for robots in clinical laboratories are likely to miss them at first glance. It’s because today’s robots seem like Star Wars’s helpful and enterprising humanoid C-3PO character. Without designs inspired by the human body, these machines are now taking up the most repetitive laboratory tasks from human hands, and they will be everywhere soon.
Robotics manufacturer, ABB Robotics, runs a new research centre at the Texas Medical Centre (TMC) Innovation Institute in Houston, foresees that the market for nonsurgical robots in healthcare will hit 60,000 by 2025, a fourfold increase from 2018, and 5,000 of those will be for laboratories.
This inundation of robot assistants doesn’t mean they will replace humans, said Jose Manuel Collados, healthcare solutions business line manager at ABB Robotics.
“We see robots supporting in dangerous or dull activities,” Mr. Manuel said. “We are focused on supporting people.”
Here’s how robotics are being used in clinical laboratories right now.
The Existing Robotics you should know about
The concept of robotics in laboratory medicine is not new. However, this technology has advanced rapidly in the past few years.
In 1990, clinical laboratory professionals started hearing about ‘total laboratory automation.’ “But nothing happened as of now,” stated Robin Felder, Ph.D., Professor of pathology and Associate Director of clinical chemistry and toxicology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville.
Today, robotics is often used to plan the most routine and repetitive tasks of the laboratory, such as centrifuging, aliquoting, and automating routine chemistry, immunoassay, hematology, and urinalysis. The systems are mostly enabled by bar codes that indicate mechanical elements within various instruments.
Mr. Felder explains if it wasn’t routine and high volume, there was a special place in the lab where people still did things such as feed analysers manually. Robotics has already “begun to swallow up all of the manual tasks of a laboratory.”
It is possible because robotic technology is getting more sophisticated, accurate, and intelligent as artificial intelligence (AI) will gradually to secure a place in the picture. This technology is now cost-effective, making financial sense when it saves lab money on other operational expenses. For instance, a robotic arm not only can process tests without fatiguing but also can handle smaller amounts of liquid, far less than a human could.
Additionally, using smaller volumes in the reagent costs a huge chuck per volume. If you’re using a quarter or one-tenth amount of reagent, you’re saving that amount of money on raw materials costs, and robots can handle those small volumes, said Mr Felder.
A robot has fewer chances of making mistakes than a human, said Abd Al-Roof Higazi, Ph.D., departmental head of biochemistry and divisions of laboratories at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem. His lab recently deployed the Siemens Atellica Solution that incorporates immunoassay and clinical chemistry analysers with sample-management technology. These analysers can process 95% of the lab’s tests, Mr Higazi stated, nearly 600 samples an hour or almost 4 million a year. “This system is more sophisticated than an airplane,”
Mr Higazi has been using this system for almost a year. “As soon as the tube arrives in the lab and machine reads the bar code, it will know what to do with the tube,” he claims. After going through tests, the tubes are achieved and refrigerated for several days if physicians order more tests. If not, they are discarded.
Higazi clarified, “Nobody has to touch the tube, and all of this is done automatically and robotically.” It is needless to mention that the system is quicker than you can imagine and hardly makes any errors. Results for some tests come within minutes.