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Bluechiip Nears Commercial Launch of System for Biobanking Apps

The company has lined up a manufacturer—STMicroelectronics—to make its passive RFID sensor tags, which are based on MEMS technology, measure 4 millimeters across and can transmit temperature data at -196 degrees Celsius.
By Claire Swedberg
"Traditional passive RFID chips are CMOS Integrated Circuits (ICs) that use semiconductor technology," Schwarz explains, "whereas the Bluechiip device uses MEMS technology to build the array of resonators." Because the MEMS tag is mechanical, he says, it can withstand harsh temperatures, and can thus be smaller and less expensive than standard RFID tags that must be packaged with insulation to protect them from extreme temperatures.

In 2008, a pharmaceutical firm visited the company, seeking a system for tracking stem cells, umbilical-cord blood, tissues and other products stored in ultralow-temperature freezers, or in liquid nitrogen. Because these items are sensitive to temperature changes, they must be monitored closely, and since they are small and are generally stored in large quantities, health-care companies have sought an automated method for tracking each item's location and temperature conditions. Labels printed with bar codes and text often became obscured with frost, the pharmaceutical company explained, and required that an item be removed from its tank in order to be scanned or read. What's more, standard RFID tags had trouble operating in the extremely cold environment.

Brett Schwarz
Recognizing a greater need in this industry, Bluechiip changed its marketing focus to biobanking—the practice of storing tissue samples for the health-care industry—and began developing a solution that was tested by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, located in East Melbourne, in July 2010. The test was designed to determine whether the tags could be used to track bags typically employed to store white blood cells in liquid nitrogen, thereby increasing the efficiency with which tags are located, as well as reducing the time the tank needs to remain open while a specific bag is being sought.

The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre attached the MEMS tags to several bags that would typically be used for storing white blood cells, but in this case, they contained saline solution. The staff inserted the wand into the tanks to capture each tag's ID number and temperature. That data was then interpreted and stored on Bluechiip's software, and was compared against the temperature readings taken with a traditional thermometer in the tank.

All tags on bags at both room temperature and within the cryogenic tank read properly. The average time to search for a bag, Schwarz says, was reduced by about four seconds (averaging 23 seconds to locate a bag), compared with a manual method of searching (averaging 27 seconds per bag). Other benefits, he notes, included reducing the risk of breaking a blood bag due to manual handling, as well as ensuring that samples remained in their low-temperature environment since they did not need to be taken out during the retrieval process.

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