How COVID-19 Is Transforming Today's Labs
As 2020 nears its end, the global scientific community will have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year. Few diagnostics labs were prepared for the challenges the SARS-CoV-2 virus would present, fortunately though, these unprecedented circumstances have brought about lasting positive differences. Five changes spurred by COVID-19 will continue to transform modern laboratories in 2021 and beyond.
1. Agility matters
The pandemic has proven that every second can matter. Even under a circumstance where supply chain and labor shortages become an issue, labs need to perform smoothly. Labs require tools with high levels of sensitivity and reliability in order to detect disease, develop therapeutics, and identify preventive measures that can be taken before there is an opportunity for a surge to begin. Early detection and accurate diagnostics are vital for labs as screening becomes the new normal. Labs will strive to stay agile with utmost priority.
2. A shift toward surveillance
Necessitated by COVID-19, labs are shifting toward molecular testing and surveillance – drilling down to disease at its most basic level. Current surveillance efforts are focused on detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, tracking mutational changes in the virus, enabling unbiased pathogen discovery, and analyzing potential susceptibility and human response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Labs have realized that they must be equipped with discovery and diagnostic tools to prevent or contain the spread of infectious diseases. While we hope to never experience a pandemic of this magnitude again, proactive surveillance will be a focus to enable the world to be better prepared.
3. Collaboration is key
Collaboration among scientists is the backbone of laboratory innovation and excellence. The fight against COVID-19 has been prioritized across the globe, and this has accelerated how all organizations in the scientific ecosystem united to ultimately serve the public. Industries such as pharma, biotech, laboratory tools and service are working together towards a common goal. The collaboration has been unprecedented, and we’ll see this approach continue in many ways moving forward. Information sharing will facilitate the availability of test kits and therapeutics for everyone, everywhere.
4. Digital technologies play an important role
In modern laboratories, digital tools are essential. As of December 10, 2020, over 213 million COVID-19 tests had been performed in the U.S. this year, followed by India with over 150 million, Russia with over 81 million and the UK with over 41 million tests performed. To process the hundreds of millions of COVID-19 tests, labs are running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Without digital technologies and automation, labs would not be capable of keeping up with the ever-increasing demand for testing.
Advancement in areas such as automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning will go a long way toward supporting labs in their efforts to combat pandemics like the one we’re in now. With demand for laboratory services growing exponentially, these tools will be key in delivering robust, traceable solutions and assuring data accuracy with minimal user interference.
5. Essential training to familiarize users with new tools
Training is indispensable for effective deployment of new technologies. Regardless of how impressive or advanced a new tool or technology may be, it is unlikely to serve its purpose if users aren’t familiar with it and comfortable using it. Before choosing a provider for new workflows or instruments, lab leaders need to understand the different training and service options available from their lists of potential vendors. A good technology partner will offer in-depth theory, hands-on exercises, and workflow coaching to achieve the best performance in the lab. It’s also important to evaluate the various support services offered. If new tools or technologies malfunction, lab leaders should know who to contact and how long it will take to get things back up-and-running as efficiently as possible.
Labs are adapting to needs that have emerged in 2020. In the coming months and years, the five transformative forces mentioned above will alter diagnostic laboratories around the world. While the future is uncertain, there should be confidence amongst lab leaders that these changes are for the better – for their teams, the scientific community, and society at large.
Arvind Kothandaraman is General Manager, Specialty Diagnostics, PerkinElmer.