For many patients, waiting for a test result can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. When this result could lead to a diagnosis of leukaemia, the need for an accurate, effective and, above all, rapid service is all the more important. This is where the HSL flow cytometry department comes into its own. Providing patients with the fastest results in the country, HSL is at the forefront with a new kind of leukaemia screening service – one which is fully comprehensive and delivers results in half the time.
Naina Chavda, Head of Flow Cytometry at HSL, is justifiably proud of her department’s achievements: “Up and down the country, a full leukaemia screen takes 3-4 hours, and requires at least one fully-trained flow cytometrist. The system we use means we can do a full screen in only 1.5 hours, from when the sample comes into the lab to when the report goes out to the clinicians.”
Central to this system is a new, state-of-the-art assay, developed by Beckman Coulter and implemented by Naina alongside the rest of the HSL flow cytometry team. “There are around 200 different antigens that can be used to diagnose leukaemia, but unlike many other diagnostic tests, there is no set protocol as to which of these markers should be measured in a standard leukaemia screen,” she explains. This flexibility gave her team the chance to create their own, unique assay: “We made a conscious effort to sit down with the whole team, including both scientists and clinicians, to create an assay which is fully comprehensive and adheres to WHO guidelines. All the markers we need – whether it be for diagnosis or monitoring disease progression – are now contained within our assay. This means we hardly ever struggle with a result; the really difficult cases just don’t seem to exist anymore.”
Aside from HSL’s unique assay, the whole service has been designed to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Using pre-filled tubes cuts down on time and allows medical laboratory assistants to prepare the samples – ensuring that specially-trained personnel can use their knowledge where it is most needed, reporting the results. The service is complemented by a bespoke laboratory within the Halo building, which was designed by Naina with the leukaemia sample pathway in mind. “It was hugely exciting to be given the opportunity to design a dedicated flow cytometry laboratory,” she says. “The whole laboratory is designed to maximise ease and efficiency of workflow, ensuring we can deliver results to our patients in the shortest time possible.”
There is no doubt that HSL’s system overhaul has made a huge difference to patient experience. As Naina explains, “Leukaemia screening requires patients to undergo a bone marrow aspiration, which is a surgical procedure conducted under general anaesthetic. In a busy hospital environment, this means the sample rarely gets to us before 1pm. With the old system, there was always a mad rush in the afternoon trying to analyse samples and report results before the laboratory closed. Now that our service can deliver results in 1.5 hours, patients can feel safe in the knowledge that they will almost always get their results on the same day.”
This not only eases some of the anxiety around diagnosis, but also helps to improve quality of care. A timely result means timely treatment – the importance of which cannot be overstated in the case of leukaemia, where patients can deteriorate quickly and suddenly. When hours can make all the difference, the significance of being able to deliver results in half the time is undeniable – and HSL is proud to be leading the way.