Whether a general health check, a preventive exam, or a test performed due to concrete complaints, many of us know these consultations at the doctor when a blood or tissue sample is collected for analysis and sent to a diagnostic laboratory. Some days, or even only hours later, the results are available and the physician is able to make a diagnosis.
For instance, a patient may have a nut allergy and must therefore adjust their diet in future in order to not suffer from the allergy symptoms. Another patient might be diagnosed with a rheumatic disease and informed by the physician on a suitable treatment. And another patient might get to know that they’ve got a viral infection. Despite all the achievements of modern medicine, there are still viruses which may pose a risk to the patients’ lives and not seldom cause great epidemics. For example in November 2002, almost 8,000 people fell ill due to the SARS virus, which was unknown until then and which caused the death of 744 people. What only few people know: The first commercial test worldwide for the detection of SARS virus was developed, produced and distributed into the affected countries by EUROIMMUN. The test supported fast diagnosis and eventually contributed to containing the pandemic. Although this might be a rather drastic example, it shows how important laboratory diagnostics are for the global health and that EUROIMMUN contributes an important share.
Where is EUROIMMUN positioned?
Our test systems are used by more than 6,000 laboratories worldwide to investigate patient samples and provide results reliably and quickly. The principle behind the tests is simple: We look for antibodies which are formed by our immune system as soon as we came into contact with a pathogen. You could say that every antibody is “customised” to a particular pathogen and is in charge of fighting this. Just a few microliters of patient sample (e.g. blood or saliva) are sufficient to identify antibodies and consequently to draw conclusions about an associated disease. However, it becomes a bit more complicated if patients carry a predisposition to a certain disease in their genes. Here, blood or saliva samples are not enough for a diagnosis. Therefore, EUROIMMUN also produces test systems which allow investigation of patient DNA.
EUROIMMUN’s product portfolio covers different methods for the detection of disease-specific genes and antibodies – from slim membrane strips (blot), to slides with BIOCHIPs, on which antibodies can be made visible by means of dye (IFT), to microplates consisting of individual test wells (ELISA). ELISA test systems, for example, can be processed manually by the laboratory staff or fully automatically by means of instruments, e.g. EUROLabWorkstation. The EUROLabWorkstation is one of many automation solutions developed by EUROIMMUN. It suits our test systems exactly and comes equipped with corresponding software. In this way, patient samples can be analysed in very short time and laboratory workflows can be designed to be more efficient.
What happens with the results obtained with a EUROIMMUN test kit?
The test results are evaluated by the attending doctor and constitute the basis for a diagnosis. For the patient it is essential that the disease is detected timely and exactly diagnosed, since this is fundamental to decide on a treatment. An adequate therapy can only be administered if the diagnosis is correct. The EUROIMMUN test systems meet these requirements: They not only deliver prompt, but also clear results. Example: If a prick test has shown that a patient reacts to peanuts with allergic symptoms, he or she might acquire an emergency kit. But what happens if the allergy really is a birch allergy and not a peanut allergy? The consequence: The patient always carries the emergency kit even though it is not necessary. Our tests help to clarify such “misunderstandings”, in this case due to a cross-allergy, and allow secure conclusions on the disease.
Quality is the top priority
In order to prevent wrong diagnosis, our test systems must work flawlessly.
Every tiny BIOCHIP that we produce is important since the health of a person may depend on its correct functioning. Every employee must know about this responsibility. Very diligent working and high quality standards for our work are therefore extremely important, says Elvira Kruse, Head of the BIOCHIP Production.
Our low reclamation rate of 0.009 percent is not only due to the care that our colleagues put into the production process, but also our Quality Control Department. “Not one produced unit leaves our house without prior testing. To do this, we take a random sample from each lot and check the test manually and on one of our instruments” says Ulrike Machnik, Head of Quality Control.
The same quality requirements also apply to our laboratory instruments and devices which are designed for fast and precise analysis large volumes of patient samples. Already in the development stage, every detail must be exactly planned and thought through. This not only applies to the technical, but also the biochemical processes that we want to control. According to Bianca Huth, Head of Analysis Techniques, the competence is mostly due to the interdisciplinary cooperation: “The outstanding exchange of information and ideas which takes place between the scientific departments at EUROIMMUN is really extraordinary”. Our researchers know the biochemical processes through to the smallest detail and which requirements an instrument must meet. Our instrument engineers, and system and software developers then technically convert these requirements into a reality. In this way, know-how from many different areas comes together, resulting in innovative products which are unrivalled in the global market.
The future of laboratory diagnostics
The fields of biotechnology and medical technology are permanently growing and the test and detection methods for all kinds of diseases are indispensable in our modern healthcare sector. But why is that and why are there always new diseases which we need to investigate and fight? There are many different reasons for this.
First, there is the change in demographics and an increasing life expectancy. The population becomes older and the number of patients with widespread diseases, such as diabetes or rheumatic diseases grows. At the same time, the modern world, and our lifestyle bear many commodities, but may also be the cause of new diseases. For instance, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, pollutants in the air or in clothes and other harmful products cause so-called diseases of affluence. These must be investigated and new diagnostic methods found. Also today’s mobility, travel and international commercial relations cause pathogens to be imported and spread in regions which had not been affected until now.
Besides all these new diseases, there are diseases which have been investigated for years, but can still not be clearly diagnosed or cured. Moreover, viruses mutate and alter permanently. Therefore, it sometimes becomes necessary to develop new detection methods and drug treatments for diseases that have already been investigated before.
All these current and future challenges for our healthcare sector require research and diagnostics to become even faster and more precise. Modern laboratories are digital, fully automated and fast and precise when it comes to sample analysis. In future, artificial intelligence will help to diagnose diseases even more reliably and to eliminate error sources in the test evaluation. Automation, robotics and laboratory IT shall not only save time but also further increase the quality and minimise error-proneness. We pose ourselves the same challenges: We research new diagnostic methods, develop test systems, construct instruments and optimise the products that are already included in our range. This is what people at EUROIMMUN work for every day.