We've already seen a robotic device that's capable of inserting intravenous needles in people's arms. Now, researchers from New Jersey's Rutgers University have designed an automated system for drawing and analyzing blood samples, which could potentially increase efficiency and reduce the human error factor in medical settings.

Patients would start by placing their arm underneath the system's "venipuncture robot," which would use its image-guidance system to locate a vein. It would then proceed to draw blood from that vein, transferring the sample into a centrifuge. From there, the separated blood would be computer-analyzed via a microfluidic platform.

So far, the setup has been successfully tested on artificial arms with plastic tubes standing in for blood vessels, filled with a blood-like fluid containing fluorescent microbeads. Using that fluid, the device has performed "highly accurate" simulated white blood cell tests.

Down the road, it is hoped that the system could be adapted to rapidly perform other types of tests, in settings such as ambulances, emergency rooms, clinics and doctors' offices.

"This device represents the holy grail in blood testing technology," says Prof. Martin L. Yarmush, senior author of a paper on the study. "Integrating miniaturized robotic and microfluidic (lab-on-a-chip) systems, this technology combines the breadth and accuracy of traditional blood drawing and laboratory testing with the speed and convenience of point-of-care testing."

The research was led by Dr. Max Balter, and is described in the journal Technology.