Meet Dr. Pierre Blonski, Head of the Blood Analytical Platform at Ketterthill Labs, which is the biggest private laboratory in Luxemborough and handles over 6000 blood samples per day.
MUKUNDH BALASUBRAMANIAN: Hello Splice readers. Happy New Year! Hope that you have had a good start to 2016. This is Mukundh here from Luxembourg with Dr. Pierre Blonski, Head of the Blood Analytical Platform at Ketterthill Labs. We’re going to talk today about the journey of your blood samples in modern diagnostic labs and look at some future trends with Dr. Blonski. Hello Dr. Blonski!
PIERRE BLONSKI: Hello!
MUKUNDH: So, let’s start by basically describing to our readers what journey do blood samples go through in traditional diagnostic labs?
PIERRE: Okay, just introducing our lab (Ketterthill), we’re the biggest private lab in Luxembourg. We handle about 6000 blood samples per day. We are organized into a central technical platform in Esch (Esch sur Alzette) and we have venipuncture (blood collection) centers throughout Luxembourg. We collect samples from physicians and also patients in our venipuncture centers and bring them all day long to our technical platform. These samples upon arrival are encoded, labelled and prepared and last month we installed our new system (track) to handle all these different steps: prepare, encode, centrifuge, de-cap and to bring them to various technical areas.
We have been automating our labs for the past 8 years.
MUKUNDH: Can you talk a little bit about why you upgraded to this new platform and some of its features versus the old way of doing things?
PIERRE: Okay! So, in a traditional lab, people are busy handling samples throughout the day, taking them from one area to another, placing them in centrifuges module, and removing them and handling the caps manually and generally bring the samples from one analyzer to another. So, you can imagine that with around 6000 samples daily that it’s difficult to handle this (the process) manually.
MUKUNDH: So, there can be issues with contamination…and errors…
PIERRE: Yes, especially errors. So that’s why we decide since the last 8 years to bring automation in our labs. So, we began in our old facilities with only small track which helped us to handle only one type of sample, only serum samples. But, our (positive) experience with this first track showed us that it’s really important for us to go towards automation as far as possible. The new track we installed is manufactured by GLP Systems based in Hamburg, Germany and distributed by Sysmex Europe. This new concept of track is based on one important feature, this has an automatic carrier called i-Car.
With the new system we can load more than 1000 blood samples per hour.
MUKUNDH: What technology is used in this carrier or track?
PIERRE: It is like a small car, with motors, sensors and an RFID chip.
MUKUNDH: So, this is radio frequency basically, just like the tags in some department stores?
MUKUNDH: So, how does it help to manage the 6000 samples that you see daily, how does it speed things up versus the old system?
PIERRE: So, in our new facilities we face some unique challenges in implementation because we are organized on different floors. The arrival of samples is on the ground floor but the labs are on the first second floors.
MUKUNDH: So, you have to manage this space vertically.
PIERRE: Yes, this our first problem. The new system is helping us to deal with this as the i-Cars are running on a track which is going on different floors by a spiral system. We have two input modules on the ground floor to automatically place samples on the i-Cars and the i-Cars then go to different floors. This system of-course brings us more throughput as the robots running the input modules to load the i-Cars run very fast. We can now load more than 1000 tubes per hour.
MUKUNDH: How does the system help you manage the traffic downstream when you have to analyze the blood (samples) for different tests?
We can deliver results much faster than a traditional lab so doctors can make faster and better diagnosis.
PIERRE: We now have more than 20 different analyzers connected to the track making various tests. So the system (track) is connected to our IT system, so one you load a tube, the track is notified of the type of analysis to be performed for that sample and then an optimized route is automatically calculated to bring the samples directly to the different analyzers to perform the tests. And before performing the tests we have (preparative) modules, like automatic modules to centrifuge samples, and to remove the caps robotically.
MUKUNDH: So, this basically helps you to handle more samples and connect them to other automated platforms directly.
PIERRE: Yes. Also, this has also change our organization, especially for our technicians…our staff. With such tools, they can really focus on more high-value activities. So, you can imagine de-capping sample tubes all day long is not so engaging…so that’s the first thing that really changed for us.
Now, they (staff) can really focus on the results themselves, the quality of the results and of course, the system also increases security. Because, now we have less errors, and as it is easily possible to switch samples (incorrectly) when you handle them manually, but with automation you can avoid these errors. This is really important for our staff and also our customers, especially the Doctors.
MUKUNDH: So how does this help them (Doctors) make better decisions?
PIERRE: We can deliver results much faster than a traditional lab. With such a tool, we have a smooth workflow from the arrival of the sample in the technical platform to the results which we can deliver to the doctor directly through the internet. For example, in case of emergency, we can send them the results in less than one hour for specific tests.
MUKUNDH: So Pierre, Can you tell us a little bit about future trends beyond just automation of the tracks, what are some the things to look forward in the next 2-5 years in blood diagnostics in terms of automation of tests and of handling all of the data resulting from the tests.
PIERRE: In the future, I’m sure that there will be increase in automation, especially when it comes to big labs. More analyzers will be connected to the automated tracks, in additional to core lab (biochemistry), definitely PCR will be connected and probably microbiology, because we are working on that with our supplier to connect analyzers for cytology, and also for inoculation of samples.
MUKUNDH: With all these automated tracks and instruments you will have a lot of data being generated, so how do you think that will get handled in the future, in diagnostic labs?
PIERRE: It’s a very interesting question. Because we have a lot of data (generated). But we are now under discussion with different partners to imagine what we can do with the data. It’s not so easy because to bring value to the data, we have to qualify (characterize and annotate) the data and sometimes this is missing from some of the data for example clinical data. And without qualifying the data, it is not easy to bring value to the data. It will be a new activity for the labs to improve the value of the data and also share them especially with research labs and for epidemiology, where we have a lot of ongoing work.
MUKUNDH: Thank you Pierre! For this very interesting conversation on blood samples and modern labs. So that’s it for this time and thanks to all the Splice readers for listening. Goodbye.