There are several different kinds of medical testing laboratories, each serving a unique purpose. Trinity Medical Laboratories in Marlton, NJ, can run all sorts of tests, including processing blood work, drug screening, and using LC/MS technology to detect the presence of virtually any compound.
Let’s take a look at the various types of medical testing laboratories and how Trinity fits into the complex web of medical labs.
Classifying the Different Types of Medical Testing Laboratories
As its name implies, a research laboratory is designed to allow scientists to perform medical experiments. Research laboratories play a pivotal role in developing new medicines and ensuring their safety. Animal testing is often used to determine if a new compound is safe, so these facilities typically include areas for animals as well.
In general, you’re probably not going to walk into a research laboratory any time soon. In extremely rare circumstances, samples from patients may be sent to a research lab. This could occur when an unidentifiable illness is discovered, or when several laboratories cannot provide a conclusive diagnosis.
How research laboratories are used often depends on who is operating them. There are private research labs and public ones, each with different goals.
Private research labs are usually operated by pharmaceutical companies. Their primary goal is to develop new products for the company. These laboratories are especially important right now as the race for a COVID-19 vaccine continues.
Pharmaceutical companies invest heavily in their research facilities. 17% of the industry’s revenues go to R&D. Most new drugs fail, making the pharmaceutical business a boom or bust venture.
Private labs will employ Laboratory Management Systems (LMS) to track the internal operations and process the resulting data from experiments. Some private labs may send their data to supercomputers that specialize in processing medical data, such as the billion-dollar network being developed in Europe.
Public research laboratories can be enormous complexes or small university labs contained in a humble building. Public labs play an important role in assisting government agencies with their work. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) operates four major Environmental Research Centers around the country in addition to dozens of other small labs.
These public facilities are typically used to measure the quality of air and water. However, many of the EPA’s facilities are highly specialized and research very specific issues. For instance, the Fish Toxicology Lab in Ohio spent decades catching fish in the Great Lakes region and testing them to discover new pathogens and protect fish stocks.
Smaller public research facilities can be found at public universities. These are useful for educating young researchers and introducing them to the work they’ll do in medical testing laboratories later on.
Clinical Research Sites
Clinical research sites are privately-owned facilities that help with conducting clinical trials. At these sites, you won’t find lots of expensive equipment or chemical reactions. Instead, these are more comfortable spaces for medical professionals to evaluate patients who participate in clinical trials.
These sites are usually operated by a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that supports private and public entities alike. Making a new medicine in a private research lab is only half the battle. The other half is the clinical trial, and CROs are crucial to this process. They recruit participants and provide staff for the trial.
Pathological laboratories help doctors diagnose diseases in patients. These are the medical testing laboratories that you’re probably most familiar with. If you’ve ever had a drug test for a job, you likely went to a pathological laboratory.
Most pathological laboratories are located within patient care facilities like hospitals. Since hospitals need information very quickly, it makes sense for them to have their own lab on site. Samples that doctors take from patients are sent down to the lab for processing in order to give patients a diagnosis and proceed to treatment.
There are two branches of pathology that these labs handle, namely anatomic pathology and clinical pathology. Some labs manage both types in the same location, but it’s quite common to find labs specializing in one or the other. Trinity Medical Laboratories primarily focuses on clinical pathology, for instance.
Anatomic pathology tests for diseases by looking directly at tissue samples using high-powered microscopes. If the doctor calls for a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is taken and sent down to the anatomic pathologists to study it and determine what is happening to the tissue. This is how cancer is officially diagnosed.
Pathologists can also look at very fine samples of cells. This is known as cytopathology and can be very useful for diagnosing skin conditions. These samples are easier to obtain and so they can be taken at a physician’s office.
Anatomic pathology also plays an important role in autopsies since other methods of identifying the cause of death may not be available in all circumstances.
Clinical pathology is our specialty. The key difference between anatomic and clinical pathology is that in clinical pathology we study bodily fluids to secure a diagnosis. To do this, we need to use special equipment and chemical agents for the best results. We offer three key types of clinical tests.
A blood test is one of the easiest ways to get a quick estimate of a patient’s health. When a sample of blood is spun in a centrifuge, we can easily measure the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This makes diagnosing conditions like anemia or sickle-cell disease very simple.
We can also look for other components in your blood. Diabetes is diagnosed by evaluating your glucose levels, while your heart disease risk is ascertained by measuring your cholesterol levels.
Several other diseases can be caught simply by taking a look at your blood. Your blood health reflects the health of other organs, including your liver and kidneys. Genetic testing can also be performed on a blood sample to tell us if you are at risk for other conditions.
Drug Screening With Enzyme Immunoassay
Drug testing serves several important purposes. Although most of us tend to associate it with drug tests for employment, medical professionals need accurate drug screenings too. Patients are not always forthcoming about the substances they may have in their system, so a good drug screening prevents possibly dangerous combinations of substances from being introduced into a patient.
In addition, drug screening can confirm if a patient has been following their prescribed treatment. This is particularly important for psychiatrists whose patients have mental health conditions that could lead to their own harm. Likewise, law enforcement utilizes drug screenings to confirm if an individual is adhering to the terms of their probation. Autopsies also utilize drug screening to search for other potential causes of death.
We use an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to detect the presence of drugs. A combination of an enzyme and antibodies is mixed with a sample from the patient. If the patient has the drug that matches the antibody, the enzyme changes color in proportion to the amount of the drug in the sample. This provides highly accurate and reproducible results.
LC/MS stands for liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. These two terms represent two different ways of identifying compounds in a sample. Both make use of the fact that every compound has a distinct mass. LC/MS technology provides the most accurate results of any testing method.
In liquid chromatography, the sample is mixed into a solution and then we aim to separate a specific compound. Since each compound moves differently through the solution and separates according to specific parameters, we can dial in the exact conditions that will isolate the compound we’re looking for.
Mass spectrometry measures the mass of a specific molecule in a sample. This can determine the molecular weight of the components in the sample. Since we know the mass of a specific compound that we’re testing for, all we need to do is find a matching compound in the sample to confirm its presence.
Another way to classify the types of medical testing laboratories is to look at their biosafety level. The US Centers for Disease Control sets the rules for biosafety level certification. There are four levels of biosafety to consider.
Biosafety Levels 1-2
Our lab operates at these lower levels. BSL-1 is used for labs that may have some dangerous products but does not work with any pathogens that could cause diseases in humans.
BSL-2 increases the security of the facility by requiring laboratory personnel to have extra training. These labs can process samples that may include some dangerous viruses, including HIV or Hepatitis, but since these viruses are not airborne no extra security is needed.
BSL-3 labs handle viruses or pathogens that can be spread via inhalation. This makes the work much more dangerous for laboratory personnel. Additional protective gear and structural requirements are used to prevent infections and keep pathogens from leaving the building.
These facilities include advanced air filtration systems and need to be designed for easy sterilization. That means no carpeted areas and sealed windows. These labs have been at the center of COVID-19 research, and countries have recently built dozens in response to the pandemic.
These laboratories are the ones you might see at the heart of an action film. Workers need to pass through chemical showers for decontamination and use positive pressure suits to make sure no pathogens can enter their bodies. These labs work with some of the most dangerous viruses known to man.
They are so secure, in fact, that they need to be registered with the WHO as they could be potential sources of biological weapons. The WHO keeps a listing of all BSL-4 facilities and performs inspections on these labs to make sure they follow all safety protocols.
Mobile medical testing labs are the food trucks of medical testing. They perform essential testing services after natural disasters or in hard-to-reach rural areas. They are also very useful for patients who may not be able to easily get to a hospital due to physical disabilities.
Some mobile units simply collect samples to transport them back to a proper laboratory. However, as medical technology becomes smaller and more efficient, mobile labs that can process samples are becoming more common.
Get the Most Accurate Results
If you need accurate results for your next clinical medical test, contact Trinity Medical Laboratories in Marlton, NJ. Let us know what test you are interested in and we can coordinate a time for you to visit our office. You can log into our website once you’ve provided your sample to track its progress and get results online without having to drive back. Trinity makes it easy to get the most accurate results quickly.