February 20, 2024

Topic spotlight: microbiology automation

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center diagnostic laboratories are opening a new facility at MetroCenter on March 1. The new facility, with 110,000 square feet, more than doubles the lab’s current footprint.

The lab transformation will bring new technologies to VUMC, one of which is new automation to perform microbiology testing.

Historically (for the last 100+ years), microbiology testing has been performed by inoculating a patient sample onto Petri dishes and manually evaluating what bacteria grow. Since each patient has a unique microbiome, each patient’s culture is unique and requires expertise and substantial hands-on time to identify pathogens, normal flora, and contaminants.

The new automation:

  • Uses a robot to recognize the specimen type, choose the growth media, and inoculate cultures
  • Incubates the plates in “smart” incubators, which take pictures of the cultures as they grow
  • Allows use of Artificial Intelligence to identify growth (or lack thereof), as well as more complex tasks, such as pathogen identification
  • Means a quicker time to result and more consistent results
  • Allows our clinical microbiologists to focus on complex cultures, such as seen in our transplant patients

The new microbiology automation will begin with the “up front” sample processing, moving toward more complex culture reading aspects later this calendar year.

The lab transformation will meet the growing need for lab services, positively impact countless Vanderbilt patients who depend on rapid in-house testing, help to improve the clinician experience, and lay the groundwork for the future growth of the health system.

Additional details regarding the project can be found on the project’s website at vumc.org/lab-transformation.