Anyone who goes to their doctor for a blood test generally has to wait a few days for the results. But this time of uncertainty can make patients anxious especially in critical cases, such as a possible HIV infection. The fact that it takes so long for laboratories to analyze samples is in no small part due to all the cumbersome paperwork: Each sample must be accompanied by meticulous records, so lab technicians are obliged to write a lengthy report including the patient's details, the results of the analysis and the testing methods employed. This is a time-consuming and error-prone task, and one that researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT in St. Ingbert are tackling in their project "Labor der Zukunft" (laboratory of the future) . With funding from the Saarland Ministry of Economy and Science, they are developing a fully automated approach to testing, with a particular emphasis on automating the documenting of samples (www.labor-der-zukunft.com).
Automatic processing of samples
This demands a host of technical innovations, and the IBMT experts have come up with a number of concepts in collaboration with universities and medium-sized companies. Their main aim is to enable sample data to be processed automatically. A tiny microchip is embedded in the plastic of the test tube and used to store all relevant information, such as when and where a sample is from and the patient's name. In the past, test tubes would be written on by hand; more recently, the data has been stored in a barcode for easy scanning. But this does not go far enough for a fully automated system, because information contained in a barcode cannot be edited. Microchips are different: When the test tube is placed into an analyzer, the equipment can record details on the embedded chip of exactly what went on in the analysis. This means the test tube itself carries the sample's entire history with no need for technicians to write up a la
|Contact: Daniel Schmitt |