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Harnessing the Power of AI

A Western Canadian first: new automated AI-based lab system to transform care at St. Paul’s Hospital and beyond

A sophisticated new laboratory workstation at St. Paul’s Hospital is using artificial intelligence and robots for repetitive tasks to let humans do the complex work.

And although some of the components of this new $1-million WASPLab might be new, they’re already paying dividends.

The dynamic robot duo of “Tarzan” and “Jane” handle and process up to 70 per cent of laboratory samples that come through St. Paul’s Hospital Microbiology Laboratory these days, just a glimpse of the future at the new hospital. The pair is part of the new WASPLab funded by a donor from St. Paul’s Foundation. It’s highly efficient, modular, and scalable; it also frees up staff to focus on essential patient care tasks, while improving overall laboratory quality and efficiency.

“Ultimately, in order to optimize patient care, we want technologists to concentrate on the more complicated analytical laboratory work, the more interpretive work that requires human thought; we don’t want technologists to be performing manual work that machines and robots can easily take on,” says Dr. Marc Romney, Head of Medical Microbiology and Virology.

At the new St. Paul’s Hospital, two of these workstations – including the current one – will be fully operational.

Automation is a welcome addition at a busy laboratory like St. Paul’s Hospital, which processes over 145,000 microbiological samples each year from BC and the Yukon.

While laboratory automation is not new, what makes St. Paul’s WASPLab unique in Western Canada is the integration of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) with digital images and automation. The workstation can automatically pre-assess and pre-sort culture plates, segregate bacterial cultures, and alert lab staff when results need further analysis.

The machine also features sophisticated digital technology to capture high-quality images of culture plates, which makes it easier for staff to review and analyze. 

When the new St. Paul’s Hospital opens in 2027, Dr. Romney estimates up to 85 per cent of the laboratory’s clinical specimens will be processed by the two WASPLab workstations.

“At the new St. Paul’s Hospital, AI will be performing some of the simpler tasks that are now assigned to technologists, and as it matures, AI will become more sophisticated and impactful,” says Dr. Romney. “However, there will always be a need for critical thinking and careful analysis of test results, and also supervision of the instruments. Fortunately, there will always be a need for humans in the laboratory!”


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