Computer Tapes, Punch Cards and the Diagnostic Use of Blood

A short note authored by Bill Gates in a recent issue of Wired (October 2018) got my attention. The article was entitled “Blood will tell us everything.”   While recent saga of Theranos (see Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley Startup, John Carryrou, Alfred A Knopf, 2018) suggests caution, there is no doubt the concept of the liquid biopsy, which is related to the point of Mr. Gates’s article, is going to be very useful.  However, I digress. Given the association of Mr. Gates to computers, I remember an article that I had found while looking for another article.  The article was entitled “Blood-The Circulatory Computer Tap” and appeared in Perspectives and Biology in Biology and Medicine [Perspect.Biol.Med. 15(2), ©©219-220, 1972] authored by the late Irvine H. Page, M.D. Page was undoubtably one of the most distinguished physician-scientists of the 20th century best known for his work on hypertension.  Page later expanded in a later article (Page, I.H., Arterial hypertension in retrospect, Circulation Research 34,133-142, 1974). was concerned with blood as vehicle to carry to coded messages to the various tissues; hence, the analogy to a computer tape.  I am sure that most who may read this note won’t know the specific context of the use of the term computer tape.  While magnetic tapes are currently used to back up data, when the Page articles were written, tape was used to program computers and enter data.  As with punch cards, data was manually punched into the tape.   My laboratory in Chapel Hill used such procedures in the 1970’s.  So, Page’s analogy was that blood was a vehicle to program organ function while today blood is a tape containing information to be read by sophisticated analytical devices. Finally, to be redundant (see elsewhere on this site), blood is not serum and anticoagulant and collection tube make a difference. With respect to the collection of samples for analysis, there will be less sample required which will likely result in changes in the venipuncture routine.  In addition, current analytic technology in the clinical laboratory will likely use microfluidics.

©Roger L. Lundblad, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, December, 2018