The Constantly Evolving Nature of Pathology Lab Equipment

There have been many changes to the pathology lab and its equipment during the course of the last decades or so. In the late ‘50s these premises were often little more than a single room in which one or two technicians, under the supervision of a pathologist, would conduct a few chemical tests on blood and urine samples, stain blood smears for examination under the microscope and perhaps inoculate a few culture plates to check for the presence of pathogens. Most of the tests performed were totally manual and labour intensive and as such carried the constant risk of error.

Since then, numerous commercial laboratories have developed many automated and simplified techniques and machines that have served to save time, increase throughput and, most importantly, improve the accuracy and reproducibility of the results. Today, the laboratories operated by organisations such as the Medical Research Council and the South African Institute for Medical Research have been supplemented by independent companies created primarily to serve the private healthcare industry. These normally provide separate facilities and staff for the major disciplines that include clinical biochemistry, microbiology, haematology and histopathology while some may also cater for virology, cytology and certain types of serological testing as independent disciplines within the pathology lab structure and requiring their own specialised equipment.

Today, you will not see a medical technologist boiling up urine samples with Benedict’s reagent to test for the presence of sugar or treating them with salicyl-sulphonic acid for the tell-tale precipitate that identifies albumin. For many years now both of these substances, along with various combinations of others, have been detected and roughly quantitated by the simple process of inserting a reagent-impregnated strip into the sample. After a brief interval during which the various reactions take place, the presence or absence of the offending substances is revealed by an assortment of colour changes.

Such simple and rapid diagnostic procedures now make it possible for these to be conducted by nursing staff at the bedside or, in some case, by the patients themselves in their own homes. In parallel, other advances have led to the means to speed up and, in some cases to fully automate many of the routine chores carried out in various types of pathology lab. Examples of automated equipment now used in routine haematology include machines to count erythrocytes and leucocytes in multiple blood samples and even to differentiate the latter while the biochemists are able to assay dozens of the essential components using just minute serum or plasma samples in a matter of minutes.

While much of the work of the clinical bacteriologist is of a qualitative nature, the discipline has also gained some significant technological advances including the means to create the precise atmospheric conditions essential for the cultivation of aerobic, anaerobic, microaerophilic and capnophilic organisms. In addition the previously exacting tasks of bacterial colony counting, antibiotic sensitivity testing and the assay of mutagenicity have been simplified and made more reproducible with the introduction of the micro-processor controlled spiral plating system. Not only are these devices labour saving but they also provide a substantial reduction in the need for disposables that could amount to savings of up to 75 per cent on these items.

This type of equipment is used not only in routine pathology labs but also in medical and pharmaceutical research carried out by universities and commercial companies many of whom are also heavily engaged in recently emerging fields such as gene therapy, stem cell preservation and transplantation and assisted reproduction. For both routine and research purposes, IEPSA has long been the leading supplier of the specialist requirements for all biomedical sciences in South Africa.

Established in 1980, the company was first engaged in sourcing, importing and supplying the still limited range of diagnostic products available at that time and we have continued to expand our product portfolio to keep pace with each new technological advance as well as the steady emergences of the many totally new disciplines that were undreamed of when we first opened our doors. Because we are aware of the crucial nature of our clients’ activities, we have remained uncompromising in our insistence upon quality and reliability. This policy extends not only to the leading manufacturers with whom we limit our dealings but also to our intimate knowledge of their products and their applications.

As a client of IEPSA you can be assured that your pathology lab will receive the best equipment and support services available.

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