Should this AI-driven technology prove viable in clinical settings, it could contribute to easing the shortage of qualitied phlebotomists for medical laboratories worldwide
Could phlebotomists one day be out of a job? If European medical technology company Vitestro has its way, that could someday become a reality in European hospitals and in clinical laboratories worldwide. Headquartered in the Netherlands, the company has raised EUR 12.7 million ($14,057,947.50 US) in Series A financing to bring to market “the world’s first autonomous blood drawing device,” BioWorld Med Tech reported.
According to Vitestro’s website, the “device combines AI-based, ultrasound-guided 3D reconstruction with robotic needle insertion, ensuring accurate and secure blood collection. The procedure is performed fully automatically, from tourniquet to bandage application.”
This is another example of how artificial intelligence companies are finding opportunities in staffing shortages the healthcare industry is experiencing globally. In this case, the novel technology could help address the lack of qualified phlebotomists. And clinical laboratories around the world could become the proving grounds for new AI-driven devices that end up replacing human healthcare workers.
“This financing round marks a new phase of growth for Vitestro which brings the company closer to its mission of improving the venipuncture procedure for hundreds of millions of patients per year,” said Vitestro CEO and co-founder Toon Overbeeke (above), in a press release. “We look forward to growing the business and transforming patient care with Sonder Capital, leveraging their expertise in successfully commercializing medical robotic technologies.” If proven viable, clinical laboratories around the world suffering from shortages of phlebotomists could benefit from AI-driven autonomous blood draw stations. (Photo copyright: LinkedIn.)
Next Evolution for Clinical Laboratories
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 14 billion clinical laboratory tests ordered annually in the US and 70% of medical decisions depend on laboratory results. One of the more common clinical laboratory procedures—venous blood draws—is pivotal in clinical diagnostics, but a worldwide shortage of skilled phlebotomists is having an impact on this critical testing method.
With the announcement of its completion of a EUR 12.7-million Series A financing round to bring the “world’s first” autonomous blood draw device to market, Vitestro seems poised to impact both the shortage and the job prospects of existing phlebotomists. This financing round was led by San Carlos, California-based Sonder Capital and included investors with experience in the clinical laboratory and medical technology industries.
“Automating this ubiquitous procedure is the next evolution for clinical laboratories, allowing them to improve quality of care for patients while building a more sustainable operation,” stated Andy McGibbon, Managing Partner at Sonder Capital in a March press release.
According to Investopedia, Series A financing refers to “an investment in a privately-held start-up company after it has shown progress in building its business model and demonstrates the potential to grow and generate revenue. It often refers to the first round of venture money a firm raises after seed and angel investors.”
Vitestro says it will utilize the capital from this financing round to accelerate production development, prepare market authorization in the European Union, and initiate production.
Vitestro’s autonomous blood drawing device prototype (above) has been tested on more than 1,000 volunteers and patients. Vitestro plans to continue its studies on the device this year and anticipates entering the European market with the device sometime in 2024. Development of this technology is something that phlebotomists and clinical laboratory managers will want to track. (Photo copyright: Vitestro.)
Coming to a Clinical Laboratory Near You
“Medical robotics will make optimal outcomes available to everyone. I strongly believe Vitestro will set the world standard in autonomous blood drawing,” said Fred Moll, MD, Managing Partner of Sonder Capital in the press release. Moll, who has been heralded as the “father of robotic surgery,” was also appointed as a non-executive board member of Vitestro. Moll co-founded Intuitive Surgical, Inc., Hansen Medical, Restoration Robotics, and Auris Health (acquired by Ethicon, a Johnson and Johnson company).
On April 12, Vitestro announced that leading Dutch clinical laboratory OLVG Lab will be the first healthcare provider to begin using their blood-drawing device. A number of hospitals, clinical laboratories, and blood drawing departments are preparing to use the device and OLVG Lab plans to have the system fully operational by late next year, according to a press release. OLVG lab provides laboratory services to hospitals, clinics, and care providers in the greater Amsterdam area.
“Robotization has become an important topic in diagnostics. Vitestro’s technology will improve the standardization and optimization of the sampling procedure. And it helps solve staff shortages in our blood drawing department,” said Anja Leyte, director of OLVG Lab, in the press release. “But more importantly, the patients are also very positive. Our staff are really enthusiastic as well and can’t wait to start using this breakthrough technology in our healthcare.”
Vitestro’s device is still in the testing phase but could prove to be very beneficial to clinical laboratories and help alleviate the shortage of trained phlebotomists. An automated blood draw machine might also improve the consistency of the blood draw experience for both patients and healthcare professionals.
Combining robotic-assisted bronchoscopy with rapid on-site evaluation by cytopathologists enables cancer evaluation and diagnosis in one procedure
New technologies are making it possible to both collect a tissue biopsy and diagnose lung cancer during the same procedure. Cytopathologist are essential in this unique approach, which has the potential to greatly shorten the time required to diagnose lung cancer.
The RAB platform was created by Auris Health in Redwood City, Calif. According to a USA Health new release, the Auris Health Monarch “enables physicians to see inside the lung and biopsy hard-to-reach nodules using a flexible endoscope. When combined with rapid on-site evaluation (ROSE) it allows for diagnosis at the time of bronchoscopy.”
USA Health says it is the only academic health system in Alabama to combine the Auris Health Monarch (Monarch) with ROSE to diagnose lung cancer in a single procedure.
“Nine-nine percent of the time we make a diagnosis—negative or positive (at time of bronchoscopy). We don’t have to do repeat procedures,” said Elba Turbat-Herrera, MD, Director of Pathological Services at USA Health’s Mitchell Cancer Institute (MCI) and Professor, MCI Interdisciplinary Clinical Oncology, in an exclusive interview with Dark Daily.
As a cytopathologist, Turbat-Herrera performs ROSE during procedures at USA Health. “I think we have improved diagnostics very much. With the Monarch equipment, one can see where the needle is traveling in the bronchial tube. It is more precise,” Turbat-Herrera explained.
Patients Benefit from Robotic-assisted Bronchoscopy
Traditionally, anatomic pathologists receive core (tissue sampling) biopsies and fine-needle aspiration biopsies from doctors looking to determine if a lung nodule may be cancerous. But the procedures to secure the biopsies are invasive and stressful for patients waiting for results from clinical laboratories. And some nodules are difficult for surgeons to reach, which can delay care to patients.
Currently, more than 112 US healthcare providers use the Monarch robotic-assisted bronchoscopy (RAB) platform, which garnered US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance in 2018, the USA Health news release noted.
The Monarch platform, according to USA Health, “integrates robotics, micro-instrumentation, endoscope design, and data science into one platform to empower physicians.”
Eric Swanson, a pulmonologist at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, MD, calls Monarch a game changer. “It’s a big, big upgrade from what we had before,” Swanson told the Duluth News Tribune. “(Before), you’d just pass a small catheter through a regular bronchoscope, and you turn it and hope you land in the right spot.”
The Monarch platform has enabled USA Health to step-up diagnosis of lung cancer, as compared to FNA (fine needle aspiration) biopsy on its own, according to Turbat-Herrera.
“With FNA alone, you try to get (sample tissue), and you are not sure. Now, if it is there, you should get it because the (Monarch) equipment helps you get there. Our role in pathology is to help guide the hand of the pulmonologist: ‘you don’t have what we need,’ or ‘keep going in that area of the lung,’” she said, adding that physicians have been able to reach tiny lesions.
High Incidence of Lung Cancer
The American Cancer Society, says lung cancer is the second most common cancer, with an estimated 235,760 new lung cancer cases and 131,880 deaths from the disease in 2021.
It’s hoped that healthcare providers’ investment in new robotic technology—such as Monarch and others—may shorten the time required to diagnose lung cancer and eventually save lives.
Providers such as USA Health go a step further by integrating ROSE with RAB. The robotic technology—coupled with on-site rapid evaluation by a cytopathologist that averts repeat biopsy procedures—immediately secures an assessment of sample adequacy and a cancer diagnosis that may benefit patients as well.
This is yet another example of how a new technology in one field can have a benefit for anatomic pathologists.