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AI-guided robots do lab work at Vancouver hospital

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jan26,2024

Guided by ;AI robots do lab work in Vancouver hospital

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Dr. Marc Romney, head of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Virology at Saint-Paul Hospital, observes a new computer-assisted machine artificial intelligence that helps the hospital's microbiology laboratory.

The Canadian Press

Two robots powered by artificial intelligence manipulate and process samples in a laboratory at Saint-Paul Hospital in Vancouver; a first in Western Canada.

Far from the jungle, Tarzan and Jane, the two robots, unscrew the sample tubes and spread them on bacterial culture plates in the new $1 million automated WASPLab. They process up to 70% of the hospital's microbiological samples.

It's not prestigious work, but it's tedious work: the Saint-Paul laboratory processes more than 145,000 samples each year microbiological samples from British Columbia and Yukon.

Lab automation is not new, but the hospital says WASPLab's use of artificial intelligence is a first in Western Canada. Robots evaluate and sort culture plates, separate bacterial cultures and notify staff if anything requires further analysis.

Dr. Marc Romney, head of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Virology at the hospital, said the new level of automation made life easier for doctors and laboratory technologists by freeing them from repetitive manual work. /p>

Tarzan and Jane have been working in the lab for two months. Dr. Romney says they are excellent workers, willing to start early in the morning and finish late in the day, and able to process a large batch of samples at one time.

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We like that they allow lab staff to perform more complex work. […] Thus, more routine work, sometimes very manual, is replaced by a robot, he explains. He adds: This gives us a lot more flexibility in our workflow.

When the robot duo first arrived, there was a lot of enthusiasm, says Dr. Romney, but also a little bit of excitement. apprehension on the part of laboratory staff. Because people think: "Is this machine going to take over my job?" But eventually they realize it's not and say, “This will make my life easier.”

Tarzan and Jane each have their own special skills. Dr. Romney points out that Tarzan is good at the heavy lifting, which is preparing samples for the next stage of bacterial cultivation.

The robot retrieves the sample, such as a urine culture or wound swab, then scans the barcode to determine what to do with it.

Next, Jane does the finer work of applying a precise volume of the sample to the surface of the bacterial culture plates. The plates are placed on a conveyor belt, labeled, and then stored in an incubator, allowing bacterial colonies to grow.

It is after incubation that WASPLab's artificial intelligence comes into play, rejecting negative culture plates while reporting positive ones. Previously, this was all entirely manual, and now it's automated by these two robots, Tarzan and Jane. It would have taken humans much longer to do this, says Dr. Romney.

The robots were created and named by Italian laboratory automation manufacturer Copan. The hospital said in a statement that doctors and lab staff spent months collaborating with Copan to customize the WASPLab to ensure it met the hospital's needs. The project was funded by a donor from the Saint-Paul Foundation.

The system is not infallible. Dr. Romney says robots sometimes make mistakes and Tarzan was known to drop tubes. In real life, we know that complex technology sometimes goes wrong, and we have to supervise it […] and even Tarzan and Jane sometimes make mistakes, and so we have to have humans on hand to correct these errors when they occur, explains the doctor.

Another WASPLab will be created when the new Saint-Paul hospital opens its doors in 2027 .

Could robots and artificial intelligence completely replace human staff in hospitals of the future? Dr. Romney believes both will play a role in healthcare settings, but will never completely replace healthcare professionals.

If I were a patient, I'm not sure I would have complete confidence in robots to provide all of my care, he illustrates, admitting that it could be partial.

The vast majority of the time, automated systems work just fine, Dr. Romney points out. But sometimes they make mistakes. […] AI is a big part of the future of healthcare, a big part of the future of hospital-based acute care. But it's not the ultimate solution.

He predicts that AI will free the next generation of doctors from a simpler work. But what's happening in health care is that the level of acuity and complexity of our patients is increasing dramatically […], and I think it's more difficult for AI to give a definitive answer, says Marc Romney.

It's not impossible. But this requires, I think, human intervention.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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