Patient with difficult to access veins? Call in the ultrasound robot

Rutgers University research

Published: 16 March 2020 Information management & technology

Engineers at an American university have created a device that combines a robot, artificial intelligence, and near-infrared and ultrasound imaging to draw blood, or insert catheters.

The most recent research by the team at Rutgers University, published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence, suggest that autonomous systems like the image-guided robotic device could outperform people on some complex medical tasks.

“Using volunteers, models and animals, our team showed that the device can accurately pinpoint blood vessels, improving success rates and procedure times compared with expert health care professionals, especially with difficult to access blood vessels,” said senior author Martin L Yarmush,  professor in the university's Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Failure to access veins, arteries and other blood vessels occurs in an estimated 20% of procedures, and difficulties increase in people with small, twisted, rolling or collapsed blood vessels, the study says. In these groups, the first-stick accuracy rate is below half and at least five attempts are often needed.

The robotic device can accurately steer needles and catheters into tiny blood vessels. It combines artificial intelligence with near-infrared and ultrasound imaging to identify the blood vessels from the surrounding tissue, classifying them and estimating their depth, followed by motion tracking.

In other published work, the authors have shown that the device can serve as a platform to merge automated blood-drawing and analysis.