The robots are coming

TMC plans to open one-of-its-kind robotics facility later this year

A new robotics facility is headed for the TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has announced its plans to open a new robotics-equipped laboratory in October of this year. The automation capabilities will allow for more efficient lab tests and services.

The new facility is being made possible by a partnership between the medical center, TMC Innovation Institute, and ABB, a leading robotics company. This would be Zürich-based ABB's first dedicated health care center, but the company has over 400,000 robotics products across industries in over 53 countries.

"The next-generation laboratory processes developed in Houston will speed manual medical laboratory processes, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks in laboratory work and enhancing safety and consistency," says Sami Atiya, president of ABB's Robotics and Discrete Automation business, in a news release. "This is especially applicable for new high-tech treatments, such as the cancer therapies pioneered at the Texas Medical Center, which today require manual and time-consuming test processes."

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute. The space will have an automation laboratory with robot training facilities, and meeting spaces for the human innovation partners.

Currently, ABB's robots specialize in food and beverage laboratories worldwide, but able to adapt to medical facilities for specific tasks, including "dosing, mixing, and pipetting tasks, as well as sterile instrument kitting and centrifuge loading and unloading," according to the release.

"We are proud to co-develop collaborative robotics systems for the hospital of the future with one of the world's most advanced partners and to test them in real-world laboratories to ensure they add value to healthcare professionals, driving innovation, and transforming how medical laboratories operate worldwide," says Atiya in the release.

According to the release, TMC's connection to innovation, startups, and researchers were key factors in bringing the facility to Houston. ABB Robotics has a long-term plan to invest and innovate in robotics, says Atiya in the release.

"The Texas Medical Center continues to push the boundaries of innovation with cutting-edge industry partners by establishing TMC as the epicenter for ABB Robotics' entry into the healthcare space," says Bill McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, in the release. "We continually strive for opportunities to accelerate research and enhance clinical care through key strategic partnerships. ABB's move into the heart of the Texas Medical Center campus with this first-of-its-kind R&D facility for creating robotics solutions in healthcare will set a new course for advancements in medicine."

Automation nation

Courtesy of TMC

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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