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Take 5 with Dan Blake – 5 Minutes, 5 Questions on the World of Clinical Mass Spec

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We would like to formally (or informally) introduce the new SCIEX Clinical Diagnostics blog series entitled, Take 5. Every couple of months we will ask a member of our team to answer five questions and share their responses in a format you can read in five minutes.

We start the series with Dan Blake, the Technical Marketing Manager for SCIEX Diagnostics. Dan is responsible for demonstrating the capabilities of our clinical diagnostics portfolio. This can range from working in the lab creating extensive analytical performance sheets and sales training content, or working with customers to help ensure they get the most from our systems.  

1. What is the current state in clinical labs in terms of sample analysis?

In a nutshell, I cannot emphasize enough the pressures faced in a clinical lab. They stand the real prospect of having to analyse ever-increasing numbers of samples while trying to juggle the need to reduce operational costs and improve internal process efficiency. As if that’s not enough, it’s critical for them to maintain and report the highest quality patient results; all at the same time.

I’d also like to highlight that sample analysis is commonly performed using the immunoassay method. We consider the method to be a mature technique that’s been around for a while and still commonplace in most labs across the globe as its still essential for certain analytes.

However, we’re starting to see a shift in clinical applications adopting mass spectrometry. I think one reason is because there are new markers and large compound panels that are not accurately measurable with the traditional immunoassay methodology but are possible with mass spectrometry.

2. Why is mass spectrometry becoming the dominant analysis tool in clinical laboratories?

Where mass spectrometry separates itself from traditional methodologies is its higher degree of sensitivity and specificity, making it inherently superior to other analytical techniques such as immunoassays. For any clinical investigation, clinicians need to be confident that they are detecting the compound or molecule that they are interested in. They also want the confidence that even extremely low abundance compounds can be accurately detected and quantified, meaning sensitivity and selectivity are essential in a clinical lab.

3. What are some of the barriers to universal adoption of mass spectrometry in clinical labs?

Clinical laboratories’ reputations are made or broken on the quality and accuracy of the results they generate. It’s only natural; therefore, for large scale changes to the technology used to produce these results to take time, care and effort for all involved.

Mass spectrometry now has a long-proven record in clinical diagnostics in most applications. It’s the responsibility of manufacturers such as SCIEX to continue to make the move to mass spectrometry as easy as possible, making the path to widespread adoption simpler. We have made inroads in this area with the SCIEX Topaz™ System, built with simplicity and accessibility at the forefront.

4. Isn’t cost often cited as a barrier?

Yes. This is ultimately one of the biggest roadblocks. When faced with the need to reduce operational costs, the thought of investing in new pieces of analytical machinery might seem unintuitive. However, this is another misconception about the technology that must be overcome.

Mass spectrometry has the potential to open new routes for sample analysis that could reduce operational expenditure, leading to improved laboratory efficiency and productivity.

Some of the possible advantages of a mass spectrometry-based approach are the power to include automation for more efficient workflows, the ability to build comprehensive panels which allow for the discrete detection and quantification of multiple components in a single injection — unique software solutions to automate result review and to report like the capabilities of high-volume analyzers. 

In the end, bringing in this technology can create the ability to capture significant lost revenue including a reduction in send-out needs and streamlining processes and workflows.

5. Are there any specific examples where mass spectrometry is advantageous?

There are many, but one of the largest clinical applications of mass spec is the detection of steroids. It is essential that a clinical lab can detect even low-level endogenous steroid hormones with confidence. Immunoassays can detect steroids, but their lack of sensitivity means that when attempting to detect those low levels; the specificity is reduced.

Mass spectrometry solves these issues. The SCIEX Citrine™ MS/MS system has phenomenal sensitivity, able to detect and quantify even the most challenging steroids such as estradiol and aldosterone at clinically relevant levels.

Thank you for reading and thank you, Dan! If you would like to know more about mass spectrometry for clinical diagnostics, please visit our website for further information and to contact the team.

If you have questions you would like our team to answer in future Take 5 Blogs, please email clinical@sciex.com.

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