How Clinical Labs Can Boost Standardization

How Clinical Labs Can Boost Standardization

An automated workstation can solve a range of standardization challenges for clinical labs

Alexandra Sommer, PhD

Alexandra Sommer joined Tecan in 2015 as senior product manager and is responsible for Tecan’s clinical lab automation portfolio. Prior to working in the diagnostic industry in 2006, she worked as scientist in oncology research and tropical medicine in different organizations in Europe. Alexandra is a biologist by training and holds a PhD from the University of Hamburg, Germany.

Q: Why is it crucial for clinical labs to standardize their sample mixing?

A: There are some applications—mass spectrometry, for example—where the upstream preparation requires that blood be mixed very well because components associated with the blood cells need to be accurately quantified. That’s the case when we look at some vitamins and immunosuppressants. Immunosuppressant drugs are normally associated with blood cells, and if you don’t mix the blood well, you don’t get a reliable result in the end; it’s necessary to mix it well so that you pick up an equal amount of blood cells corresponding to the whole blood sample that you have, in order to figure out if the concentration of a drug in the blood is high enough or too high.

Another reason why people would like to standardize their sample mixing would be if they want to create a homogenous solution with reagents. For example, if tubes are coated with reagents, it’s necessary to mix them well to bring them together with the blood that was just pipetted. 

It’s also important to standardize sample mixing in drug testing, so when looking at oils, powders, or plant material. Thorough mixing is required to bring the potential drugs into solution. The downstream assays in that case are often based on mass spectrometry, i.e. liquid chromatography mass spectrometry.

Q: How can Tecan’s Fluent Mix and Pierce Workstation help labs achieve standardized results?

A: I think the most obvious way is that we automate the entire process. The Fluent Mix and Pierce Workstation is helping customers standardize results where they normally have to do manual mixing. That manual mixing will never be standardized because every operator does it in a different way, and the same is true for the pipetting. 

Our automated solution comes with certainty about accuracy data and CVs, so you can be sure that you’re within the range in which the machine is defined to pipette liquids. A major advantage for clinical laboratories is also the full traceability an automated system provides, so you can be sure that you pipetted the right amount in the right tubes at the right volumes. You also get process reports out of it that tell you if there were any errors, and if so, what kinds of errors they were—that’s definitely a help to laboratories and might support them in accreditation procedures. 

Q: What are some clinical and research applications that can benefit from the Fluent Mix and Pierce Workstation?

A: Customers are using it for immunosuppressant and vitamin testing, so some vitamin B sybtypes for example are associated with whole blood. They’re also using it for latent TB testing and lately, also COVID-19 research. Researchers are studying the T cell response to COVID infection, either by detection of cytokines, i.e. IFN gamma in plasma or by detecting cytokine secretion of T cells after stimulation with corona virus antigens on a singular cell level. 

As mentioned before, the Fluent Mix and Pierce Workstation is of interest for forensic analyses and drug testing, where potential drugs need to be solubilized and homogenized as preparation for the downstream analyses. 

Q: How does the Fluent Mix and Pierce Workstation help to improve safety and prevent contamination?

A: In terms of safety, because you don’t have to open the tubes, the Fluent Mix and Pierce Workstation prevents users from coming into contact with potentially infectious material. 

Minimizing contamination risk is definitely important to our customers because they work with fixed tips as opposed to disposable tips for pipetting. We have looked at cross contamination for serology testing and we’re far below any limit that would prevent us from processing the samples.