Seoul, Korea Hosts Lab Automation Meeting

Held every second year, it is the showcase for advanced applications in lab automation

CEO SUMMARY: It was the fifth “International Conference on Laboratory Automation and Robotics.” Over the past decade, this meeting, started by the pioneers of clinical laboratory automation, has been the major forum to meet and discuss advances in all aspects of automation. This conference is not widely-known in North America or Europe, although the conference always features speakers from these regions.

EVERY SECOND YEAR, a laboratory meeting takes place in the Far East which gets little attention in the United States and Canada. It is the “International Conference of Laboratory Automation and Robotics.”

This year’s event was held on April 13-14 in Seoul, Korea. It attracted more than 377 attendees from 15 countries and was supported by 17 vendors. It was the fifth automation conference and featured speakers on laboratory automation and robotics from Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Australia, United States, Germany, Finland, and The Netherlands.

THE DARK REPORT was there, both to speak on the economic and other forces influencing the adoption of laboratory automation and to participate in the full event, which included site visits of three Korean laboratories. It was an opportunity to learn about lab automation’s past and present.

As to the present, this year’s meeting showcased many of the latest technologies and products for laboratory automation. A surprising amount of sophisticated instruments and solutions are available in Asian countries, but not yet sold in the United States.

As to the past, the story of the laboratory automation and robotics conference is closely linked to the evolution of laboratory automation. Most of the attendees were from Korea, Japan, and other Far Eastern countries and have been enthusiastic pioneers for laboratory automation, some starting as early as 1980.

The knowledge gained about the past and present of laboratory automation in the Far East will be both fascinating and useful to pathologists and laboratory managers in the United States and Canada. That’s because today’s laboratory automation solutions are directly linked to the early development work done in Japan in the decade of the 1980s.

Three Intelligence Briefings

The easiest way for THE DARK REPORT to share the knowledge and insight gained from this experience is to divide it up into separate intelligence briefings, organized around three topics. First will be highlights from some of the more intriguing presentations delivered at the conference.

The second briefing will cover what was seen during site visits to three laboratories in Seoul. The third and final briefing will center around the remarks made by Jutaro Tadano, M.D., Ph.D., who is a respected early pioneer in laboratory automation from its original roots in Japan. Dr. Tadano was a major contributor to laboratory automation in Japan from its earliest days. He offered a 25-year retrospective on the subject, along with a surprising assessment of the consequences to laboratories in Japan from their automation initiatives.

Do More With Less

What made this meeting particularly interesting is the approach that many laboratories in Asia take toward automation, compared to the United States. Speaking generally, automation solutions are viewed in the context of how such changes will affect patients and patient care—while also improving productivity and reducing costs in the laboratory. In the United States, primary motivations for automation are often to cut costs or as a substitute for labor, allowing medical technologists in the lab to be shifted to higher value duties.

First Time in Korea for the Cherry Blossom Symposium

THIS YEAR WAS THE FIFTH “International Conference of Laboratory Automation and Robotics.” It was the first time that the conference was conducted outside of Japan.

The first conference took place in 1998. It was organized by Masahide Sasaki, M.D. Ph.D., and was held in Kochi, Japan. Dr. Sasaki, who died last year, was Professor of Clinical Laboratory Medicine at Kochi Medical School in Nankoku City, Kochi, Japan. He is credited with implementing the first automation system in a clinical laboratory during the early 1980s.

This conference is held every second year. In 2000, the second conference was held in Karatsu. It then moved to Hamamatsu in 2002, and to Tokyo in 2004. It is also called the “Cherry Blossom Symposium” because, in early spring, the cherry blossoms are in abundance throughout Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries.

Each Cherry Blossom Symposium is hosted and produced by pathologists and laboratorians from the host city and region. For Seoul, Korea, the conference was chaired by Jin Q. Kim, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman and Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine at Seoul National University Hospital. The Korean laboratory community staffed the organizing and advisory committees. Dr. Kim proved to be a gracious host and was quite effective at making all the delegates feel at home in Seoul, regardless of how far they traveled to attend the program.

This year’s conference was well-organized and chock-full of interesting presentations. There was also an exhibit hall where manufacturers showed their latest laboratory automation products.

The Sixth International Conference on Laboratory Automation and Robotics will move back to Japan. It will be held in the spring of 2008 and will return to Kochi, site of the first conference organized by Dr. Sasaki in 1998. It is a meeting that pathologists and laboratory managers with a keen interest in automation are likely to find valuable.

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