Blood sampling robot excels in human clinical trial

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A robot that can take blood samples performs as well or better than humans that are trained to do the job.

A prototype of an automated blood drawing and testing device (Image: Unnati Chauhan)

This is the claim of a Rutgers University-led team whose automated blood drawing and testing device has been put through a human clinical trial on a blood sampling robot.

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The results, published in Technology, were said to be comparable to or exceeded clinical standards, with an overall success rate of 87 per cent for the 31 participants. For the 25 people whose veins were easy to access, the success rate was 97 per cent.

According to Rutgers, the device includes an ultrasound image-guided robot that draws blood from veins. A fully integrated device, which includes a module that handles samples and a centrifuge-based blood analyser, could be used at bedsides and in ambulances, emergency rooms, clinics, doctors' offices and hospitals.

Venipuncture involves inserting a needle into a vein to get a blood sample or perform IV therapy. It is the world's most common clinical procedure, but clinicians fail in 27 per cent of patients without visible veins, 40 per cent of patients without palpable veins and 60 per cent of emaciated patients, according to previous studies.

Repeated failures to start an IV line can increase the likelihood of phlebitis, thrombosis and infections, and may require targeting large veins in the body or arteries, incurring greater cost and risk. Consequently, venipuncture is among the leading causes of injury to patients and clinicians. Furthermore, difficulties accessing veins can increase procedure time by up to an hour, requires more staff and costs over $4bn a year in the US alone, according to estimates.

"A device like ours could help clinicians get blood samples quickly, safely and reliably, preventing unnecessary complications and pain in patients from multiple needle insertion attempts," said lead author Josh Leipheimer, a biomedical engineering doctoral student in the Yarmush lab in the biomedical engineering department in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

In the future, the blood sampling device could be used in procedures as IV catheterisation, central venous access, dialysis and placing arterial lines.

Next steps include refining the device to improve success rates in patients with difficult veins to access. Data from this study will be used to enhance artificial intelligence in the robot to improve its performance.