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I flu robots

As a self professed science nerd, itís an understatement to say I was crazy about the science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov!

I second that.

In fact my favorite, Dave, is his "Robot" series where they become guardians of humankind. The idea seemed fantastic when the books came out but now robots have a prominent role in our world.

Even in medicine.

There are robots that assist surgeons in precise operations; robots that "pick" and dispense medicines in hospitals; And now thereís a robot to help us in the surveillance of infectious diseases. One good example is the swine flu which came from Mexico and hit the U.S. and Europe this Spring.

To detect influenza rapidly requires a fancy bit of molecular biology called polymerase chain reaction or PCR for short. PCR is a process that detects the very few copies of influenza virus present in a human nasal or oral sample in as little as 5-6 hours.

Epidemiologists can then follow the virus as it spreads in order to warn healthcare facilities and make anti-flu drugs available.

Hereís the "rub" though… PCR is great but most machines used for this technique can process just one human sample at a time and look for only one virus.

Within weeks of the swine flu outbreak, the Galveston National Laboratory received 1500 samples. With more than one virus circulating at any one time weíll be old men before they can identify all the swine flue samples.

Exactly! Except now we have the T5000 Universal Biosensor system! This remarkable robot can process twelve samples at one time and identify the pathogen in each sample in just hours.

Thatís almost 200 samples in each 24 hour period — giving us critical lead time to respond to a viral outbreak. Robots that can protect us from infection? Issac Asimov was right on!

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