It’s no secret that the medical and health care industries are both ripe for innovation. New and advanced technologies are constantly emerging and are capable of transforming medicine in ways never seen before.
Two prevalent technologies – robotics and automation – are carving out places in medicine. As the robotics and automation markets continue to grow, the number of medical use cases will increase. Robotics and automation solutions will benefit the medical fields, specifically in immunohistochemistry (IHC) laboratories.
Below, learn about IHC labs, the robotics and automation markets, and how robotics and automation solutions could benefit modern IHC labs.
What Are Immunohistochemistry (IHC) Labs?
Immunohistochemistry (IHC) is defined as a diagnostic technique that occurs in a closed laboratory setting. In an IHC lab, skilled pathologists use advanced technology to perform special tests on biopsy tissue samples to diagnose certain diseases.
Tests in an IHC lab are incredibly precise and help a patient’s care team learn specific details about their disease to determine treatment options.
For example, an IHC lab can determine where cancer started, the type of cell it started in, and whether cancer will grow slowly or quickly. This detailed information is invaluable to medical professionals and their patients. Aside from diagnostics, IHC is also used for biological research and drug development.
There’s a greater demand for IHC in clinical diagnostics. With ongoing staff shortages, it can be challenging for labs to meet that increasing demand.
As a result, some IHC labs are investing in or considering investing in robotics and automation to overcome these challenges and operate more efficiently. Since robotics is already a booming industry, more robotics engineers and programmers will likely be needed in the medical field and other sectors.
Use Cases for Robotics and Automation in IHC Labs
Before getting into use cases, it is important to define robotics and automation. The two terms are linked but have different meanings. Here are their simple definitions:
Robotics: The design, creation, and use of mechanical robots to accomplish specific tasks, often those that would otherwise require human action.
Automation: Using self-operating, mechanical machines, computer software, or other technologies to perform human tasks. A key to automation is that the device follows a set of predetermined rules and instructions for operation.
An IHC test involves determining whether a piece of tissue (the biopsy sample) expresses a particular protein. Pathologists can use mass spectrometry or western blotting techniques. Still, learning where the protein is within the tissue requires better visualization.
Processes in an IHC lab are time-consuming and subjective, meaning results can vary considerably. IHC labs are looking into robotics and automation solutions to minimize variability and improve other process pain points.
Below are examples of how robotics and automation play an increasingly important role in IHC labs.
Example of Robotics in IHC Labs
Most robots in IHC labs are called auto-samplers. Their primary use is continuously providing samples for analytical devices in the lab. ThermoFisher Scientific, Epredia, and Lab Vision are three companies that offer robotics used in IHC labs.
These robotic solutions are called auto-stainers – space-saving, fast, and reliable tools that can help with IHC processes. Two examples of auto-stainers in IHC labs are the Telepathology and Lab Vision Auto-Stainer 480S-2D and 360-2D.
With these robotics tools, labs are increasing throughput, improving accuracy and precision, and eliminating some of the manual work needed in the lab.
Example of Automation in IHC Labs
IHC automation can alleviate some of the workloads for pathologists in a lab. The Dako Omnis is a new machine used in many IHC labs.
Dako Omnis is an automated system capable of IHC and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) staining and essentially treats every slide the same. By leveraging this automated solution, pathologists and lab technicians can spend more time on other important tasks.
Another solution – the SNAP i.d. IHC system, created by MilliporeSigma – involves a vacuum manifold, which increases the efficiency of slide-staining processes.
Additionally, it can make it easier for pathologists to reproduce manual slide staining. Researchers can process and analyze around 24 slides simultaneously due to the vacuum suction.
Robotics and automation have already improved the efficiency of IHC labs, which are currently facing labor shortages and tedious processes.
The Importance of New Tech in IHC Labs
While robotics and automation solutions are expected to become more widely used in IHC labs and beyond, other technologies will likely emerge to improve their operations. There’s no denying that IHC labs perform significant tasks, such as developing life-saving drugs or diagnosing cancer. Labs must employ any relevant technological solutions to overcome ongoing challenges.