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Researchers develop automated robotic device for blood testing

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Rutgers researchers have created an automated blood drawing and testing device.
Rutgers researchers have created an automated blood drawing and testing device. - ()

Rutgers University researchers have created an automated blood drawing and testing device that’s intended to be safer for medical professionals and patients.

The research that resulted in this invention was headed by Dr. Martin Yarmush, the Paul and Mary Monroe endowed chair and distinguished professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers. The device features three distinct components: a venipuncture robot, a sample handler and a blood analyzer.

Yarmush has since formed a company Vasculogic, which owns intellectual property on the robotic device, and is looking for investments. He’s looking for a preferred investment of about $10 million to complete a professional design and fabrication of a suitable device for a clinical trial.

The timeframe for attracting investors could take months or years. He is trying to raise money through venture capitalists, which is a drawn-out process.

“If you are lucky it takes months,” Yarmush said. “If you are not lucky, it takes years.”

“We at Rutgers have a National Institutes of Health grant of [almost $2.7 million] to develop the device and send the blood to an analytic portion that measures blood parameters,” Yarmush said. “The downstream portion simulates a clinical lab where the most popular blood test is a complete blood count. Our system will be able to do at least a portion of the complete blood count and the measurements of specific protein markers in blood.” 

Yarmush began thinking about developing such a device about 30 years ago when he was in medical school. He recalled observing on a pediatric rotation nurses trying to draw blood from a child, who was not comfortable.

“It was a mess,” Yarmush said. “They called the surgeons to assist. I thought there has got to be a better way.”

In addition to drawing blood, the device handles the needle so the clinician does not touch it, eliminating problems related to accidental needle-sticks.

“Needle injuries are the most common injury among clinicians,” Yarmush said. “Anything to minimize that aspect of the blood draw is beneficial.”

The two populations from whom drawing blood is troublesome are senior citizens and children. Senior citizens have rolling veins because the matrix around blood vessels is weak, and children have smaller veins.

“[With older patients] you hit a vein, but it often rolls to the side,” Yarmush said. “We hope this device will be fast enough to insert into a rolling vein. We hope in the future it will be used in populations that are difficult to perform vena puncture. The device identifies the largest caliber vein, and then the ultrasound portion identifies the blood flow within that vein.”

Max Balter was a Rutgers doctoral student in biomedical engineering from 2012 to 2017 working under Yarmush. He worked on developing the device for his five years leading up to his earning his doctoral degree.

“When I joined his lab, there was already a vena puncture device,” Balter said. “The biggest takeaway is the real need for something like this. There has not been much innovation for vena puncture. Clinicians struggle with manual puncture. If there is a device to place the needle into the vein, that would be a huge improvement. There is a huge market need for a device like this one.”

Balter is now a senior research and development engineer at Medtronic, a global medical device company. He works in Boston.

One challenge involved creating a device that’s not intimidating, as needles can scare children and some adults. He’s focused on finding investors either venture capitalists or angel investors.

“We are open to many avenues depending on what opportunities present themselves,” Balter said. “We have been seeking funds for five years.”

The research team included Alvin Chen who like Balter was a doctoral student and has since graduated from Rutgers. Chen is currently a research scientist at Philips Healthcare in Cambridge, Mass.

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David Hutter

David Hutter

David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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