The rapidly increasing automation of many industries through innovative technology and instrumentation is revolutionizing the way companies operate. We have gone from assembly line robotics to automating mining trucks and now passenger cars, disrupting the transportation industry and creating new and unpredictable changes yet to be fully realized.
Less visible but equally disruptive, automation is transforming clinical and research laboratories by allowing technicians and lab staff to maximize productivity. Through these changes, researchers and clinicians can analyze samples easier, faster and in a greater abundance than ever before, all in an effort to deliver more accurate diagnoses and improve patient care. Recognizing these groundbreaking shifts and the growing interest from researchers around the world, the American Society for Mass Spectrometry focused on the theme of implementing more user-friendly, automated instrumentation at its annual meeting in July.
“Turnaround time is the key issue nowadays,” said Dr. Christoph Seger, who leads the special chemistry laboratory at the Risch Laboratory Group in Liechtenstein in a conversation with Bjoern Neubacher (Market Development Specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific). “Since everyone can deliver the same quality, now we need to be able to have shorter turnaround times while maintaining the same quality.”
Dr. Seger understands the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls that are present in both clinical and private research labs. A chemist by training, he spent 20 years in clinical settings, mostly at the University Hospital of Innsbruck in Austria, before joining the Risch Laboratory Group in October 2015.
When new, automated instrumentation designed for clinical labs enters the marketplace, such as the Thermo Scientific Cascadion SM clinical analyzer*, which was introduced at EuroMedLab 2017 in June, it can have a significant effect on lab workflow, efficiency and productivity. The Cascadion analyzer is the first automated instrument for clinical laboratories that combines liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) – two techniques used in analytical chemistry that together form a powerful, highly sensitive instrument. The Cascadion analyzer allows for a random access workflow, meaning that technicians can load and perform tests on samples in any sequence. The result is shorter turnaround times.
“The future is bright when it comes to automation in the clinical sector,” said Dr. Seger. “Among the major application fields, therapeutic drug monitoring has seen the most acceptance of automation to this point. If practitioners can find more cost-efficient ways to get more samples in and out, it benefits the entire chain, down to the patients. Two other fields that I see benefitting from automation in the next 10-20 years are endocrinology and protein analysis.”
As with any new wave of technology or industry disruption, there are challenges that need to be addressed in the clinical lab industry. Dr. Seger says the two most pressing issues related to the accelerated push for automation is process standardization and training personnel to operate new technology. Although the newest instruments are designed with the intelligence to automate their work and provide faster results, they still require technical expertise to ensure that samples are loaded and assays are run properly. And consistency is key to providing the most reliable care to patients who require repeated testing at various labs over a lengthy period of time.
“You need standardization to provide patient care at the highest quality,” Dr. Seger added. “The deviation from lab to lab can be quite high. That can result in difficulties running patient samples successfully without reaching different clinical decisions because of different venues.
“The most important topic in laboratory medicine is always patient care.”
For more on the introduction of the Cascadion analyzer and its impact on labs, check out this article from the June 19, 2017, issue of Chemical & Engineering News.
*Disclaimer: The Thermo Scientific Cascadion SM clinical analyzer is still in development and not yet available for sale. The product is not CE marked or FDA 510(k) cleared.
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