Taking molecular biology into the field is a big step forward in moving molecular diagnostics to the gold standard of microbiology laboratory testing
An Australian pathologist is pioneering a new approach for showcasing the role of pathology and demonstrating the dramatic potential of mobile medical laboratories. His technique: take a molecular diagnostics laboratory on the road—in a suitcase!
High-tech Molecular Pathology Lab Goes Mobile
The concept is a portable molecular microbiology lab, consisting of a series of modules. Timothy Inglis, B.M., D.M., Ph.D., Clinical Microbiology Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) and fellow scientist, Adam J. Merritt, are demonstrating high-tech clinical laboratory equipment in a fully mobile laboratory expedition. Both are employees of PathWest Laboratory Medicine W.A.. A recent story published at virtualmedicalcentre.com reported on the program.
The forays are part of Lab Without Walls (LWW), a not-for-profit founded by Inglis. The organization receives support from PathWest and the School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Western Australia, according to a story at MicroGnome.
Inglis and Merritt are using the “mobile lab in a suitcase” to do molecular testing for microbiology purposes. The team is demonstrating—before onlookers from the general public—how to use high-tech field equipment in the battle against mosquito-borne illnesses. Their mobile lab in a suitcase uses the latest in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology and robust, portable laboratory equipment.
The groundbreaking program is the first in Australia to deploy this approach. “Without the use of mobile equipment, mosquitoes [from the field] are sent back to Perth for testing,” explained Inglis in the Virtual story. “The definitive results can take weeks.”
The aim of the Inglis’ program is to bring new clinical pathology laboratory methods into use in remote, rural and regional locations. Another goal is to challenge public perception of the field of pathology and medical laboratory testing. “The general public saw the lab team working on soil samples to detect the bacteria that cause the tropical infection known as melioidosis,” stated Inglis in the Virtual piece. “We want to encourage people to consider careers in the clinical sciences.”
Field Application Uses New Medical Lab Test Technology
The mobile molecular diagnostics laboratory utilizes a series of modules, stated another Micrognome post. They comprise:
- a sample preparation module (vortex mixer, bench-top microfuge, heating block, automatic pipettes and an automated magnetic-bead DNA extraction system);
- a hospital real-time thermocycler; and.
- a mobile conventional thermocycler and bioanalyzer.
The mobile lab also includes consumables and molecular reagents. The mobile lab can deliver a wide range of pathology tests, such as:
- dengue fever;
- Japanese encephalitis virus;
- Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria in blood cultures;
- scrub typhus; and,
- spotted fever group; and
Much needs to be done to refine these molecular diagnostic assays, Inglis acknowledged in the Virtual story. However, he pointed out that taking molecular biology into the field is a big step forward from techniques previously used.
Inglis and colleagues are demonstrating that existing diagnostic technology can already support a suitcase-sized molecular lab that can travel into the field and perform diagnostic testing that meets clinical standards for accuracy and reliability. “We have shown that by adapting assays developed in a reference laboratory, it is possible to deliver a PCR-based assay for detection of a newly emerging infectious disease threat in field conditions, using test platforms currently in use,” Inglis stated in a research article published by the journal PLOS One.
While the mobile laboratory concept has been used in other regions of the world (see Dark Daily, “Mobile Medical Laboratory Brings High-Complexity Infectious Disease Testing to Africa’s Remote Regions”, March 5, 2012), this is an example of Australian professionals doing a proof of concept in their country. This is also another example of why pathologists and clinical laboratory managers can expect to see molecular testing moving ever nearer to the patient.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod