The evolution of the modern laboratory
Things move a lot faster in 2023 than they did in 1979. That includes life in the lab.
“I guess what’s changed mostly is the technology. The vast changes in technology have resulted in research that is better and faster with increases in efficiency, lower overhead costs and increased productivity,” says Dallas Legare, who has been working in laboratories for more than 40 years. “When I first started, everything was done manually. Today we are looking at incorporating artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning into our research.”
“In earlier times, an experiment, from setup to analysis, would have taken three days to complete. It now can be done in a single day. The changes that have occurred not only affect the quantity of the work, but also have had a major impact on the quality of the research.”
“A very good example of that is from the late 70s,” explains Legare, now the Director of Laboratory Operations with Scimar. “At that time, we saw evidence that the hepatic nerves may have an impact on whole body glucose uptake that had never been reported in the scientific literature.”
Seeing the overall influence was easy enough, but getting a detailed measurement of the impact or the rationale behind it was a complicated process.
“Everything was done manually at that time. If you were wanting to measure blood glucose, you would have to draw a blood sample, dispense it into a centrifuge tube, spin down the cells from the plasma, then mix an aliquot of the plasma with the appropriate reagents before you could inject the sample into an analyzer to determine the glucose value. Well, that would take about five minutes.”
“Five minutes doesn’t sound like too long to wait for ground-breaking science. But in this case, it was not only limiting, but totally restrictive in what could be achieved.”
“Things in the body were happening much faster than we could actually keep up with,” says Legare. “This meant that we had no means to control the very things that we were attempting to study, making it impossible to investigate. Even though this research was of great interest and relevance, it had to be set aside.”
A decade later and thanks to advancing technology, things would be different. A second chance encounter with the same phenomena was too hard to walk away from. The lab was able to acquire an instrument that could perform the same five-minute glucose analysis in under 90 seconds. That faster testing interval meant that they could design a more in-depth experiment, which gave them the ability to control the parameters of interest and allowed them to test the hypothesis that the whole-body insulin sensitivity was controlled, in part, by the hepatic nerves. This was a significant time in the research that led to the discovery of hepatalin.
“The technological advancements over the past few decades have been outstanding,” says Legare. “But they also come with a price.”
“New technology and techniques allow us to dissect a phenomena or process into smaller and smaller parts, however we must always be on guard that this reductionism does not abandon the idea of the entire being, that we continuously bring all our acquired knowledge back out to provide a fuller, more holistic understanding of how our findings relate to the health and wellness in the total being.”
Technology that works with speed and efficiency that advances our amalgamated knowledge when combined with the perspective of the whole-body, are all crucial components for any laboratory research that aims to change people’s lives for the better.