Plant in Sparks making machine to analyze blood


Is the ailment bothering you a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics or a virus that calls for a couple of aspirin and a day in bed?

A new generation of blood-analyzing equipment will let your doctor determine the answer quickly and easily in his office, according to Becton, Dickinson & Co., an international medical technology company. Production of the new machine, known as the QBC AUTOREAD System, began this summer at the company's plant in Sparks in northern Baltimore County.

"Based on early response, we think this is going to be a blowout product," says Paul Edgerton, a senior product manager for New Jersey-based Becton Dickinson. He says that doctors appear to like the machine, priced at $12,900, because of the speed and efficiency with which it can provide a basic blood analysis.

The old and new QBCs provide results within six minutes for nine basic blood parameters, along with a two-page interpretation and suggested diagnosis. Only a small sample of blood is required.

The new QBC system is more automated than its predecessor, which means a physician's staff member would be able to operate it with a little training, Mr. Edgerton said.

If a blood test must be sent to a laboratory, the doctor often must wait 24 hours to 48 hours for information to make a basic diagnosis -- determining, for example, whether an ailment is a bacterial or viral infection.

Becton Dickinson's Sparks facility has produced 15,000 of the older generation QBC Blood Analyzing Systems, priced at $10,900 each, and has sold them to physicians in several countries. The new QBC AUTOREAD System will be made exclusively at the Sparks plant.

"In the next five years, we expect to manufacture at least 10,000 of these and to distribute them worldwide -- for doctor's offices, hospitals and emergency rooms, as well as military applications. QBC is the most popular physician office hematology system in the world," Mr. Edgerton said.

"It will certainly allow us to maintain and possibly to grow the size of our work force," he said. Currently, 750 employees work at the Becton Dickinson plant in Sparks.

The older blood-analyzing technology was developed by two physicians and Yale University professors, Dr. Robert A. Levine and Dr. Stephen Wardlaw. The two also developed the newer technology. Research work for the technology was done on contract with Becton Dickinson, but the patents are held by the two professors.

Becton Dickinson says the new QBC helps a doctor prescribe same-day treatment. That should lessen the use of unnecessary antibiotics, which are sometimes prescribed before a complete blood count can be obtained from a laboratory, Mr. Edgerton said.

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