A new technology could dramatically improve response times for biospecimen processing

ANBM’s Smart Transport Incubator accelerates emergency transport of biospecimens, cutting response time for analysis in half

Time and safety are of the essence when transporting human blood samples to laboratories for specialized analysis.

A new paper, “Automated Reagent Handling and Analytical Processing of Human Biospecimens in a Shipping Container for Medical Radiation Disaster Response,” co-authored by Adam Akkad, Brett Duane, Jian Gu, Ph.D., Alan Norquist, Ph.D., and Frederick Sennhausern, Ph.D. r , MBA, from the Center for Applied Nanobiosciences and Medicine (ANBM) at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix—was published in Plus one.

Frederick Sennhausern, PhD, MBA

It outlines how the application of a micro-controlled centrifugal microfluidic system – a piece of lab-on-a-chip technology capable of performing analyzes normally performed in laboratories – inside a shipping container can add a reagent to an actively cultured human blood sample during transport from a remote location of a radiological incident to a centralized laboratory. This would provide rapid biodosimetry of a cytokinesis-block micronucleus (CBMN) assay.

Dr. Zenhausern, director of the ANBM and interim co-chair of the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, noted that the successful development of the technology could prove significant. “With supply chain challenges as well as the healthcare logistics landscape of decentralized care, global pandemics and vaccine delivery, alternative delivery technologies are highly desirable,” he said.

Dr. Gu, principal investigator at ANBM and associate professor in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, commented that “The US government is also learning from the pandemic and understands the need to be prepared should a similar or more severe outbreak occur, such as accidental exposure to radiation. Our technology is directly applicable to biodosimetry testing and meets strategic medical countermeasures.

To date, no active handling of reagents during transport from collection site to laboratory or biorepository has been achieved. And the inability to test samples in transit can lead to costly delays or even inaccurate results.

Since there is no existing FDA-approved biodosimetry method capable of meeting the needs of nuclear sorting, the practicality is obvious. And their shipping container – the Smart Shipping Incubator, or SSI – has shown promise through testing that it can produce a culture of CBMN samples immediately after collection and during transport, cutting assay response times from six days to three.

“During a radiological emergency, individuals will develop acute radiation syndrome (ARS) with a latent phase of 2-20 days based on their level of exposure. Early medical interventions (the first few days after exposure) have been shown to significantly improve survival rates,” said Dr. Gu.

ANBM's Intelligent Ship Incubator
ANBM’s Intelligent Ship Incubator

The process is complex, but SSI works intelligently. “It features automatic release of the reagent during transport, which is accomplished by synchronized centrifugation and the micropipette orifice serving as a microfluidic valve to release the reagent when the relative centrifugal force (RCF) threshold is exceeded. To ensure that premature release does not occur, SSI uses a valve to deal with any shocks during transport,” explained Dr. Gu.

In their testing — a ground delivery from the college campus to the HonorHealth Research Institute (approximately 24 miles) — the ANBM team documented that none of their shock indicators were triggered and reagent volumes were not altered. This signals that the valve is functioning as expected, preventing premature release.

Given the design improvements—cost efficiency, more economical size—they expect the concept of actively handling samples during transport to be attractive. This would accelerate the analysis of high-quality samples or the safe distribution of clinical products, such as vaccines, with potential economic benefit—such as reducing cold chain requirements—and would ensure fairer access and rapid response in the event of a large-scale healthcare crisis of care.

“The reduced biodosimetry time will help medical staff make an informed decision about medical intervention to use limited resources in a timely manner for the most needy patient group,” said Dr. Gu.

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