Every test that is performed on patient samples in the clinical laboratory has at some point gone through a development stage. This process enables the set up of accurate and efficient technologies based upon the discovery of biological indicators that differentiate a state of disease from health. During the development it must be shown that diagnostic results are relevant, reliable and reproducible. This is where the research scientists come in as an integral part of the immunology laboratory providing the scientific basis for the often complex diagnostic assays carried out on a routine basis.
The purpose of research isn’t only to design accurate methods of diagnosis, it is also extremely important in understanding all aspects of disease including genetic and social predisposition to disease, causative factors, disease processes and progression, disease epidemiology and perhaps most importantly the action and effect of different drugs on disease outcome.
Research Immunology laboratories come in several different guises. An NHS laboratory may run a research section that directly supports the routine diagnostic service. It serves this purpose by designing new assays and improving existing ones, evaluating commercially produced assay kits and collating diagnostic data to monitor disease indicators and prevalence in specific populations. Research is also carried out in dedicated laboratories affiliated to academic institutions. Work in these labs is often focused more on the actual workings of the immune systems so that reasons why diseases occur and progress can be discovered. Scientists working in these environments often work closely with medical doctors when studying specific patient populations. This collaboration is particularly important for recruiting enough patients to make a study worthwhile. Depending on the subject of research, whether it is defeating HIV infection, investigating stem cell therapy for leukaemia sufferers or potential treatments for diabetes many different techniques are used. These include established methods such as the use of light microscopes to contemporary technologies including Polymerase chain reaction technology (PCR) and microarrays for investigating the genetic basis of disease.