We take so much in the NHS for granted, with little thought about the multiple items of equipment used by medics for a plethora of uses. One of the important instruments in the effort against COVID-19 is the clinical viscometer.
You may never have heard of it, but a clinical viscometer is an instrument that measures the clinical viscosity of bodily fluids, notably blood products such as plasma, serum and whole blood. This is key as we grow our understanding of COVID-19 because of the way the virus attacks the body, with blood clotting a common complication in patients with the disease.
COVID-19 patients have a significant rise in plasma viscosity because of an increase in the clotting protein called fibrinogen. This increases the risk of blood clots forming and might explain why a large number of deaths from COVID-19 are from thrombotic episodes and not from pulmonary disorders, which would be expected from a virus that infects the respiratory tract.
The viscometer can monitor and indicate clotting by testing the thickness of a patient’s blood fluids, ideally on a daily basis. Benson Viscometers, a manufacturer in Pembrokeshire, has become a world leader in making these instruments.
Here Bernie Benson, who founded the company with his wife Julie, tells the story of Benson Viscometers and how it has met the challenges of the pandemic.
Tell us about Benson Viscometers.
The company’s story began back in 1999 when a hospital consultant challenged me to develop a computer-controlled automated clinical viscometer. That challenge resulted in where we are today: a growing business providing skilled jobs in our community.
I put my creativity and engineering knowledge into creating something which exceeded the expectations of clinicians. I’m passionate about what we do, and we care about how our products can improve outcomes for patients.
Over twenty years since Benson Viscometers was started, we’re now the market-leader of clinical viscometers, with a presence in the UK, Ireland and the USA.
We’ve enjoyed plenty of growth over the years, and we’re still recruiting and developing – we employ 19 people now, and we foresee that number increasing in the coming months. We’re a team, and we value all of our team members. We are very proud that every one of our team truly cares about the customers we serve.
COVID-19 has presented us with the opportunity to expand because the accuracy and precision of the clinical viscosity test is in demand. It means we’re about to take on additional premises as we meet this growing need.
The pandemic has made it clear this routine hospital laboratory diagnostic test could significantly contribute to the diagnosis, monitoring and targeted treatment of Covid-19 patients.This is why we are now playing such a vital role as experts understand more about the virus.
The plasma viscosity test, and its benefits in COVID-19 research, is now receiving international interest. With our clinical viscometers already in use in the USA, we’re now getting an increased number of enquiries from laboratories across North America including Canada.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
There have been so many moments to be proud of.
The first commercial sale of the fully automated BV200 viscometer, which validated all of our ideas and hard work, was a massive landmark for the company.
And the birth of the Baby Benson, our BV1 semi-automated viscometer, as it became known.
Then there’s our remote installation in the USA, a significant development for Welsh manufacturing, and something which has received global recognition.
Ultimately, though, knowing we are contributing to people’s wellbeing is something that drives us. The plasma viscosity test could be paramount in the fight against COVID-19. We feel the responsibility, but we also feel a tremendous amount of pride in what we do.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
Knowing the benefits plasma viscosity testing can bring globally, it would be a case of moving into international markets earlier.
When we look now at the COVID-19 situation and realise how many pathology laboratories around the world do not have access to a clinical viscometer, we can’t help but wish there was a more significant investment in and adoption of blood viscosity testing.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
We approached Landsker Business Solutions for help to obtain Business Wales AGP support to progress the development of an innovative, mobile blood coagulation measuring device.
The analyser helps healthcare providers determine what type of intervention a patient needs to secure normal clotting of their blood. This minimises blood loss and avoids unnecessary transfusion of donor blood products. With the ability to be used in clinical environments such as ambulances, air ambulances, trauma centres and in frontline military situations, the instrument will revolutionise the quality of care provided to trauma patients. This is a significant milestone for us and the growth of our international operations.
We’ve made fantastic progress, even during these challenging times, thanks to Business Wales AGP.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
● Don’t hesitate – get started and work every hour, day and night.
● Don’t try and be cheap and compete with volume manufacturers. Focus on quality, adopt a fair pricing model and be known for value for money.
● Put the customer front and centre of all that you do.