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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Adolescents with Specific Health Conditions Experience Accelerated Aging at Midlife, According to Published Study in New Zealand

Study shows that access to early childhood treatment could have lasting effects and prevent premature adult aging

Researchers in New Zealand have found that people who experienced “daily smoking status, obesity, or a psychological disorder diagnosis” beginning early in life were “biologically older” at midlife than those who did not. The findings suggest that early access to treatments for these health concerns could decrease risk for “accelerated biological aging,” according to the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Although these findings do not currently provide a path to a diagnostic test for clinical laboratories, this study is yet another example of how researchers are increasingly using broad swaths of healthcare data to help identify people at risk for certain healthcare conditions.

Such research often presents opportunities for medical laboratories to participate in healthcare Big Data analysis, which in turn helps healthcare providers make precision medicine diagnoses for individual patients.

Study Assessments and Clinical Laboratory Biomarkers

Researchers from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit (DMHDRU) at University of Otago analyzed the health and behaviors of 910 people (54% men, 46% women) born in Dunedin, New Zealand, between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, through age 45.

The scientists found that participants who had one of three health conditions as an adolescent—obesity, smoking daily, or psychological disorder (anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression)—showed advanced signs of aging at age 45 when compared to others without those conditions, CNN reported.

The signs included:

  • Walking 11.2 centimeters per second slower.
  • Brain appears 2.5 years older.
  • Face appears four years older.

At age 11, 13, and 15, the Dunedin Study participants were assessed by pulmonary specialists and others for asthma, cigarette smoking, and obesity, Fox News reported.

Kyle Bourassa, PhD
“There’s a long history of that kind of research in terms of how smoking is damaging at the cellular level but also can result in the kinds of health conditions that we associate with biological aging, like (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, things like that,” the study’s first author Kyle Bourassa, PhD (above), told CNN. “The hope is if we were to study a cohort now, a much higher proportion of those children and adolescents are actually going to be treated for these things, which will reduce the risk of accelerated aging later in life,” he added. Results of the study may also lead to new clinical laboratory diagnostics. (Photo copyright: Duke University.)

According to an earlier DMHDRU statement, the biomarkers used at this point in the study included:

The researchers also tracked asthma’s effects but concluded it did not contribute to aging, probably due to availability of asthma treatments, the authors wrote in their study published in JAMA Pediatrics, titled, “Association of Treatable Health Conditions During Adolescence with Accelerated Aging at Midlife.”

“Participants who had smoked daily, had obesity, or had a psychological disorder diagnosis during adolescence were biologically older at midlife compared with participants without these conditions. Participants with asthma were not biologically older at midlife compared with those without asthma,” the researchers wrote. These findings led the researchers to certain conclusions about receiving early treatments, CNN reported.

“No participants in this cohort were prescribed stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were not yet in use for adolescent depression and anxiety during the study period. Whereas 81.1% of the adolescents with asthma received some type of treatment, which could have mitigated the implications for biological aging,” the authors wrote in their study.

“Our paper reaffirms that those are important treatments and those kinds of investments younger in the lifespan could net big benefits in terms of both health and the cost of healthcare later on as well,” Kyle Bourassa, PhD, told CNN. Bourassa is the study’s First Author and a clinical psychology researcher and advanced research fellow at the Durham VA Health Care System.

Clinical Laboratories Curate Massive Amounts of Healthcare Data

For pathologists and medical laboratory scientists, the University of Otago study is a reminder that clinical laboratories provide a critical tool to diagnostics professionals: housing, sharing, and analyzing data that contribute to precision medicine diagnoses.

The DMHDRU researchers’ findings also highlight the importance of access to common treatments offered early in life for some people to reduce risk of accelerated aging and disease.

Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Association of Treatable Health Conditions During Adolescence with Accelerated Aging at Midlife

Having Certain Health Conditions in Adolescence May Be Linked with Faster Aging in Adulthood, Study Says

Aging Faster in Adulthood Linked to Health Conditions in Adolescence

Pathology Laboratory Consolidation May Leave New Zealand Holiday Destinations with Limited COVID-19 Testing Capacity as Omicron Variant Arrives

Due to the national health system’s aggressive cost-cutting measures over the past 20 years, some regions of the island country now have only limited local medical laboratory services

It was in the early 2000s when different district health boards throughout New Zealand decided on a strategy of issuing sole source, multi-year medical laboratory testing contracts in their regions to cut lab test testing costs. Consequently, pathology laboratories that lost their bidding were forced to cease operations or merge with the winning bidders. At the time, New Zealand pathologists and laboratory scientists feared the government health system was undermining the financial stability of pathology laboratories and leaving portions of the country with limited testing capacity.

Now, arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant on the remote island nation may be creating a day of reckoning for that decision. In particular, “holiday hotspots” in New Zealand may be filling up with seasonal travelers at the exact moment a surge in COVID-19 testing is needed.

Holiday Destinations Lack Pathology Lab Capacity

Medical laboratory scientist Terry Taylor, president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science (NZIMLS), fears some small-town tourist destinations do not have the local-based medical laboratory testing capacity to process a surge in PCR tests and will need to ship samples elsewhere, delaying the speed at which COVID-19 test results can be delivered in communities that attract thousands of vacationers during New Zealand’s summer from December to February.

“In these areas, those swabs that are taken will end up being sent to the mothership so to speak, so one of the larger laboratories that’s nearby those regions,” he told Checkpoint. “So, there will be delays when this starts to kick on.”

Taylor also pointed out that shifting lab work to larger medical centers creates capacity concerns within those facilities as well.

“I will reiterate, all of the big hospitals will obviously still be operating 24-hour services doing the acute work that’s coming through,” he said. “But be aware, we do everything. We don’t just do COVID testing, so sometimes things are just going to have to wait in those periods.”

Terry Taylor

“We’ve certainly got to get together now and come up with a plan that works so that we do not inundate our laboratories and therefore the other health services,” medical laboratory scientist Terry Taylor (above), president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, told Newshub. “It is really not an option to test everyone. We need to be looking at who we test, how we test and when we test,” he added. (Photo copyright: Newshub.)

In a statement to Checkpoint, the New Zealand Ministry of Health maintained COVID-19 testing remained a priority for the government over the Christmas and New Year period.

“The ministry works closely with DHBs (District Health Boards) and laboratories to manage demands for testing, and to reiterate the importance of processing and returning tests as quickly as possible,” the statement said. “It should be noted that samples of close contacts of cases and high-risk individual are prioritized by laboratories.”

Dark Daily Correctly Predicted Pathology Lab Losses

In 2009, Dark Daily reported on New Zealand’s use of contract bidding for pathology lab testing services in Wellington and Auckland in an effort to drive down costs. The winning labs agreed to roughly a 20% decrease in reimbursement rates.

At that time, Editor Robert L. Michel predicted the loss of established pathology providers and insufficient reimbursement rates could lead to scaled down testing menus, loss of skilled staff and a negative impact on patient care. He noted then, “New Zealand may become the first developed country in the world to learn what happens to the entire healthcare system when deep budget cuts finally leave medical laboratories with insufficient reimbursement.

“Such a situation,” Michel continued, “would likely mean that laboratory test providers in New Zealand would lack the funding and resources to offer physicians and patients a full menu of state-of-the-art diagnostics tests. It could also mean that medical laboratories would lack adequate resources and skilled staff to sustain the quality of test results at a world-class level of quality, accuracy, reliability, and reproducibility. In either case, the quality of patient care would be negatively affected.”

Fast forward to 2022, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues some New Zealand leaders fear the opening of Auckland’s border to summer travelers will lead to community spread of the coronavirus at a time when budget cuts have left these same regions with local pathology testing capacity that is insufficient to meet the needs of the surrounding community.

In fact, New Zealand’s first case of community exposure to the Omicron variant was reported in Auckland on December 29, 2021, a Ministry of Health news release noted.

“You’re going to see the virus seeded everywhere,” epidemiologist Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, told The Guardian in mid-November.

Critical Supply Shortages as Pathology Testing ‘Crunch Point’ Reached

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand’s clinical laboratory system nearly reached a breaking point as a shortage of COVID-19 tests left the system teetering on the edge of collapse.

According to Joshua Freeman, MD, Clinical Director of Microbiology and Virology at the Canterbury DHB, the “crunch point” arrived around March 20, 2020, when New Zealanders were being urged to get tested so the country could determine if there was community transmission of the virus, online news site Stuff reported.

Meanwhile, testing supplies such as reagents, plastic tubes, and pipette tips were in short supply globally and 13 regional labs were yet to be set up across the country. Even once the new laboratories, district health board testing centers, and mobile clinics were up and running, procuring needed supplies remained challenging, according to COVID-19 testing data from the Ministry of Health.

America also Struggled with COVID-19 Supply Shortages

While New Zealand’s mostly publicly funded universal healthcare system has been stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s private system has not fared much better. In the early months of the pandemic, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests, and testing materials also were in short supply in this country.

CBS News reported that the US was continuing to struggle with limited supplies of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests and long turnaround times for clinical laboratory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests as families gathered for the recent holiday season.

Thus, clinical laboratory leaders and laboratory scientists in this country should watch with keen interest at how New Zealand’s pathology laboratories fare as the Omicron variant further challenges the country’s testing capacity. 

Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Testing Times: How a Health Workforce Jumped Up to Help Stamp-out New Zealand’s Coronavirus Crisis

Lab Boss Warns of COVID Testing Delays in Holiday Hotspots

COVID-19 Warning: Omicron Will Overwhelm Us Within a Week If It Takes Hold in New Zealand, Experts Say

Criticism of Laboratory Workers ‘Unfair’–Industry Leader

First Community Exposures from Border-Related Omicron Case

Ministry of Health: Testing for COVID-19

Testing Times: How a Health Workforce Jumped Up to Help Stamp-Out New Zealand’s Coronavirus Crisis

New Zealand’s Health System Walks Pathology/Lab Testing Tightrope

In New Zealand, a 20-Year Process of Regionalizing and Integrating Medical Laboratory Services Continues to Be Successful and Push New Boundaries

Last week involved a full slate of pathology meetings and medical laboratory site visits on both islands of New Zealand during Dark Daily’s visit to this Pacific nation

DATELINE: CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—There’s a good case to be made that the health system in this South Pacific nation is farther down the path of medical laboratory regionalization and consolidation than most other developed nations.

That’s one insight to be gleaned from a week’s worth of meetings with pathologists, clinical laboratory professionals, and health system administrators in the cities of Auckland on the North Island and Christchurch on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Your Dark Daily Editor, Robert Michel, had the opportunity to speak at several conferences and workshops, along with visits to medical laboratories.

A note of explanation about nomenclature will be helpful to Dark Daily’s international readers. In Australia and New Zealand, “pathology laboratory” is the common term for the medical laboratories that typically test blood, urine, saliva, and similar specimens. (In the United States and Canada, “clinical laboratory” is used interchangeably with medical laboratory.) “Histopathology” (or anatomic pathology) is the common term for labs that handle tissue specimens in New Zealand and Australia. (In North America, anatomic pathology, or surgical pathology laboratory is used more frequently than histopathology.) (more…)

Health of Pathology Laboratory Technicians at Risk from Common Solvents like Xylene and Toluene

Study identifies increased incidence of Raynaud’s phenomenon among pathology laboratory staff who work with certain chemicals

Pathologists responsible for health and safety in histology and cytology laboratories will be interested in the results of a newly published study involving staff exposure to certain chemicals. Researchers determined that medical laboratory technicians who handle common solvents develop auto-immune connective tissue diseases in increased numbers.

The new study was published this month in the Journal of Rheumatology. It offers credible evidence that clinical laboratory technicians, pathologists, and scientists who work with toluene and xylene double their chances of developing a vascular condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon (RP). And for those who work with toluene and xylene combined with acetone or chlorinated solvents, the chance of developing severe RP increases by a factor of nine!