Diagnostic Lab Equipment


The Vital Role of Modern Diagnostic Lab Equipment

In the past, diagnostic lab equipment fell into four main categories, depending upon for which of the major disciplines of pathology it was primarily intended. Since then, advances in both knowledge and technology have seen a number of the activities once allocated to certain of these areas expanded to become disciplines in their own right. Thus, today, specialist studies, such as cytology, immunology and virology, now share this status with those specialisms that may be regarded as the foundation sciences – namely histopathology, microbiology, haematology and chemical pathology.

In addition to spanning more disciplines, the overall demand on pathology departments has increased dramatically, creating a need to find ways in which to carry out their growing battery of tests, not far more quickly than in the past, but also the same, if not greater, degree of reliability.

Improvements in the treatment of malignancies based upon their early identification have led to the possibility of conducting mass screening programmes. This practice, where implemented, has led to a need for yet more diagnostic lab equipment for which, along with acceptable levels of sensitivity and reproducibility, the ability to handle large batches of samples simultaneously has become an increasingly common requirement.

Back in the late ‘50s, the Technicon Corporation introduced a revolutionary new machine known as the AutoAnalyzer, in which a succession of samples and reagents were mixed in a constantly flowing stream to form derivatives of differing colours, according to the reaction employed. The colour intensity of each sample was then measured by a photometer, compared with that of a standard sample of known concentration and a derived value recorded. A similar machine developed even earlier and known as the Histokine consisted of turntable bearing beakers of progressively purer ethanol, followed by xylene, through which tissue samples were successively rotated to dehydrate them prior to paraffin embedding and sectioning. 

Such machines have since undergone considerable improvements, but even in their early forms, provided developers with the basis for automating much of the diagnostic lab equipment that is in use today. Even the once strictly manual domains of the microbiologist and haematologist are now able to enjoy the benefits of apparatus such as automated plating machines, and colony and cell counters.

Machinery apart, perhaps the most significant advances in investigative pathology, however, are to be seen in the growing number of compact, rapid test kits that are now proving to be so important by providing an inexpensive and non-invasive alternative to a number of conventional, slower and frequently very costly screening procedures. Among the most valuable of these are those intended for the early detection of malignancies, notably those that occur in the pancreas and the bowel.

A simple test of pancreatic function is provided by measuring the concentration of the enzyme elastase present either in serum or stool, while detection of a form of the enzyme phosphokinase, known as Tumor M2-PK™, in plasma and stool acts as a highly sensitive and specific marker in cases of colorectal and gastro-intestinal cancer.

IEPSA is recognised as the leading supplier of these test kits, and of diagnostic laboratory equipment in general, to South Africa’s hospitals and research facilities. With the backing of 35 years of experience, we are also qualified to provide expert advice and support regarding their use.

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