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Blood Analysis in a COVID-19 Quarantine Lab

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Sight Diagnostics recently announced a partnership with Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital, Isreal’s largest hospital. After a two-month evaluation, the hospital has deployed Sight’s blood analyzer, OLO, in its quarantine lab, where it is being used to provide complete blood count (CBC) results of COVID-19 patients.

Technology Networks spoke with Yossi Pollak, CEO, Sight Diagnostics, to learn more about OLO and how it is being used to minimize the challenges of handling and analyzing blood samples from infected patients.

Anna MacDonald (AM): What role do CBCs play in the management and treatment of hospitalized patients?

Yossi Pollak (YP):
CBC is the most commonly ordered blood test in the world with more than 4 billion ordered globally each year. CBC is a strong indication of the overall health of a person and irregular levels can indicate a myriad of health issues including anemia, leukemia, and more. CBC results can help inform treatment decisions, including the amount of medication to give a patient.

AM: How is a CBC currently performed on quarantined patients?

Currently, CBC tests are a slow and time-intensive process. It requires a trained healthcare professional to draw a significant amount of blood from a patient which then needs to be transferred to a central lab. In the lab, a trained technician then needs to load it into a high throughput flow-cytometry based “wet” machine that runs the blood sample through tubes, to count the various CBC parameters. This “wet” method requires expensive reagents and cleaning fluids and allows the blood sample to come into contact with the inner workings of the CBC machine. After this process is complete, patients receive results after an hour or more later.

AM: What are the limitations of this protocol?

First, traditional CBC machines are much larger and more expensive, making it more difficult for a health system to set up in a quarantine lab or ward. Since they are more time and labor-intensive, they pose a huge barrier in combating an outbreak where healthcare staffing is stretched. Compared to traditional methods, OLO can be set up closer to the patient to help mitigate the risk of contamination and transmission during sample transport.

AM: Can you tell us more about OLO?

Besides being faster, less painful, and more convenient than traditional blood testing done in a central lab, OLO uses a method of “digitising blood samples,” which provides many advantages over traditional methods. OLO takes more than 1,000 images of the sample obtained from 2 drops of blood taken with a fingerstick or venous method, then automates the identification and counting of different blood cell types and anomalies with Sight’s proprietary AI and machine vision algorithms. OLO’s compact design, single-use cartridges, and rapid lab-grade results also make it ideal for emergency situations to reduce the wait time for doctors to determine a treatment plan. These differentiating factors have significant benefits in clinical settings such as infectious disease treatment, oncology, ambulatory and pediatrics and more.

AM: What advantages can it offer over traditional CBC protocols, particularly for quarantined patients?

Sight performs the highest-grade CBC test, measuring 19 different parameters with 5-part differentials. Plus, OLO requires 5% of the minimum blood volume needed for traditional lab equipment and still provides the same quality of results.

Compared to traditional methods, OLO helps the health care systems mitigate the risk of contamination by enabling lab-grade results in a field setting in countries where OLO has been cleared for point-of-care usage, without the need to send the contagious sample across the hospital. OLO’s single cartridge use with dry-hematology technology where no reagents are needed is also a key benefit in a quarantine setting. Each OLO comes factory calibrated with minimal set-up required to be fully functional, enabling for quick setup in hospitals that haven’t previously worked with OLO before. OLO’s intuitive and easy-to-use interface also requires a minimal amount of training compared to traditional systems.

AM: Can you tell us more about Sight Diagnostics’ partnership with the Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital and how the OLO analyzer is being used during the current COVID-19 outbreak?

In 2019 Sheba Tel Hashomer ran a two-month evaluation of OLO in its lab, comparing its results against their existing lab equipment. The health system found that OLO exceeded their expectations and helped streamline their process for running CBC. The results of the study showed that OLO provides substantially equivalent data on all parameters and flags. Sheba Tel Hashomer has set up OLO in a quarantine lab separate from their main lab where they conduct the testing of coronavirus blood samples. During an outbreak like this, reducing contact with infected blood samples is key to preventing further transmission. This is critical in hospitals where healthcare workers come into close contact with infected and healthy patients in short order. Having this testing capability in the quarantined lab will be crucial for Sheba Tel Hashomer to have quick diagnostic results and make faster treatment decisions.

AM: What visual signatures can be seen in blood samples?

OLO uses a multi-channel high-resolution digital microscopy to measure 19 CBC parameters that are determined based on characteristics such as cell size, shape, and intracellular morphology, which are displayed on the system’s touchscreen interface. This includes red blood cell count, white blood cell count, hemoglobin count, platelet count, and more. Through collaboration with Sheba Tel Hashomer, we are starting to analyze visual signatures in the blood of patients infected with COVID-19. While this is still very early stage, we are keen to continue our R&D effort to help manage challenging effects of infectious diseases.

AM: Are there any plans to increase the features that OLO can detect?

Sight’s method of using computer vision for blood diagnostics has allowed us to create a rich dataset of blood imagery - more than half a petabyte of clinical image data. This library of digitised blood samples is used not just to continue to perfect our AI engine, but also enables us to explore the diagnostic potential of our tech for early detection of serious health conditions like sepsis, cancer, and stroke. While we are still in the early stages of R&D, we hope to be able to expand OLO’s capabilities in the future.

Yossi Pollak was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Science Writer, Technology Networks.