WKRBC receives state-of-the-art lab equipment

April 1, 2019 | 3:15 am

Updated March 31, 2019 | 8:48 pm

WKRBC Lab Director Valerie Thomas is excited about the capability of the Cobas 6800. | Photo by AP Imagery

The Western Kentucky Regional Blood Center differs from other centers in the state because they are able to respond immediately in the event of an emergency. They are the only blood center in the state of Kentucky to perform percent of the FDA required testing in house. Recently, a new piece of laboratory technology has helped the center to uphold its commitment.

Arriving on a box truck in 19 different crates, the Roche Cobas 6800 was assembled “from the casters up” and, according to WKRBC administrator Janet Howard, required an electrician, a planner, a biomedical engineer, a software specialist and a trainer.

“We are used to getting machines that are almost completely put together,” Howard said. “They sent a team in to assemble it.”

This particular machine is now taking the place of four other machines, and is so large, in fact, that when the lab team was asked to give it a name they responded, “It’s really big — how about Big Bertha.”

“This is the machine that does the amplification changes from RNA to double-stranded DNA so that you can pick up any signs of the virus you are looking for,” Howard said. “This is done on every unit of blood. You have to do the NAT (Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing) test for Hep C, HIV, Hep B, West Nile virus and Zika. So every blood donation.”

Photo by AP Imagery

In short, “Bertha” is able to screen every unit of blood donated and test for positive reactions to the named viruses. The advantage to Bertha (the Cobas 6800) is, where the old methodology took six hours to perform these tests, the Cobas can perform them in almost half the time.

Not only is the size of the equipment exceedingly large, the price tag is as well, at approximately $800,000. However, Howard said WKRBC’s contract works through Blood Centers of America, where they pay per test and the machinery is included.

Howard said, one of the biggest advantages to the Roche Cobas 6800 is that it replaces all of the old NAT infectious disease testing, as well as allows the lab to bring FDA required testing for the Zika Virus in house.

“For years WKRBC’s core competency has been our ability to collect, process, test and distribute voluntarily donated blood and components,” Howard said. “For a short time, we shipped samples for Zika testing.”

WKRBC lab director Valerie Thomas said, while they are excited about the capability of what the Cobas 6800 can do, the change is recent and there is still a learning curve involved.

“It was installed in mid-February,” Thomas said. “I went to a week training in Indianapolis the last week in February, then did a week on site. March 18 and 19 was our first official run. It’s all still brand new.”

Howard said “it has been entertaining” to learn the nuances of the equipment, as the old machine had buttons, where this equipment has a very sensitive touch screen that can sense the heat from your finger just by hovering over it.

“We’re excited about it,” Thomas said. “Once we get all the wrinkles out.”

April 1, 2019 | 3:15 am

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