A unique robotic device is helping University of Alberta researchers confirm that hemophiliacs in Canada are receiving clean, safe blood.
Working in the Blood Borne Pathogens Surveillance Project (BBPSP) laboratory, the researchers are using the 'bloodbot' to increase the amount of blood samples from hemophiliacs that they are able to check for incidences of HIV and hepatitis C.
"We're very pleased with how this is working. Where we could only process about 25 samples a day, with the robot we're now able to do more than 50 samples, and we hope to increase this to more than 100 in the near future," said Dr. Bruce Ritchie, a professor in the U of A Division of Hematology and the director of the BBPSP. "One of the main things this machine does is eliminate the possibility of human error in some minute, repetitive work."
The robot does the tedious work of separating the components of the blood samples, registering them according to a barcode reading, and then preparing them to be frozen until researchers can analyze them.
Ritchie hopes the increased production will allow the BBPSP program to expand its scope and accept blood samples from more people in Canada who require frequent blood transfusions, such as sickle cell anemia patients.
Since the BBPSP was established in 2000, Ritchie's team has not found a single case of HIV or hepatitis C that has resulted from a blood transfusion to a hemophiliac in Canada. This is a drastic improvement from the situation decades ago, in which thousands of Canadian became infected with these diseases, among others, after receiving tainted blood in transfusions.
"It's really encouraging," Ritchie said. "We've been able to confirm that the measures put into place are working to ensure we don't have a tragedy like the one that occurred in the '70s and '80s."
More than 160 million units of Factor VIII blood product are transfused in Canada each year, said Ritchie, whose lab receives blood samples from 25 clinics and hospitals from across Canada. The BBPSP lab currently maintains more than 50,000 blood samples, which are kept in freezers set at -80 C or colder.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Association of Hemophilia Clinic Directors of Canada sponsor the BBPSP laboratory. Researchers at the U of A teamed with Baxter, a company that prepares the Factor VIII that is provided for transfusion recipients, to commission a company in California to create the robot.
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