Mass spectrometry in the lab: Improving consistency in patient results

Contributing lab leaders: Robert DejongePieter Vermeersch and Mads Nybo

Mass spectrometry (mass spec) has steadily become a method of choice for a handful of labs within hospitals and healthcare organizations for analyzing samples. From clinical diagnostics to drug screening, mass spec offers a potential new tool for the clinical lab on a larger scale and with greater accuracy and consistency than traditional methodologies.1

However, before mass spec is broadly adopted into the current clinical routine, it is important to understand how we can tap into the potential of mass spec to help improve the consistency of patient results.2 The life sciences industry and all corresponding stakeholders need to gain a better understanding of the entire mass spec end-to-end workflow, specifically how we can use automated processes in the lab to reduce errors, improve time to results, and decrease resource waste.3 By doing so, we can help to improve patient care and the entire healthcare system.

At this year’s annual European Congress of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (EuroMedLab), Prof. Dr. Robert de Jonge, Prof. Dr. Pieter Vermeersch, and Prof. Dr. Mads Nybo, discussed insights into how mass spec can help to improve consistency in patient results.

Article highlights:
  • Incorporating the complete automated mass spectrometry workflow into the lab can lead to improved error reduction and rapid results.
  • Standardizing mass spec assays will allow us to increase the consistency of patient results which is key for utilization in diagnosis and therapy.
  • Medical analytic specialists break down data into helpful material for stakeholders and decision-makers.

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Standardization of mass spectrometry protocols and sample preparation in the lab

If we wish to improve the consistency of patient results, we need to find ways to standardize mass spec protocols in the lab. Overall, the entire process can be highly resource-intensive and time-consuming. The issue is that these procedures can differ greatly within the lab, and across lab workflows. “We struggle a lot with different measuring methods, recommendations, and guidelines,” said Dr. Nybo. With more rigid standards, we can improve consistency and reliability in patient results all while maintaining quality.

Additionally, pre-analytic steps such as the preparation of samples can be a complex process, especially when dealing with large workload volumes, which is typical of a clinical lab. “We should try to keep the sample preparation as simple as possible because it is also typically not only laborious, but a potential source of errors for whole blood samples,” said Dr. Vermeersch.

There are multiple pre-analytical errors that can arise from samples in a medical lab, including:4

  • Missing sample or test request 
  • Misidentification 
  • Contamination 
  • Insufficient samples 
  • Wrong containers
  • Inappropriate blood to anticoagulant ratio
  • Incorrect transport and storage conditions

Standardizing mass spec protocols and decreasing the complexity of sample preparation in the lab will allow us to maintain consistency across sample analysis. There are several options for addressing this including automation, and removing abundant proteins.5,6

Improving turnaround time

In most scenarios, patients spend a significant amount of time in the clinic for simple therapeutic drugs or steroid tests. With a fully automated and integrated mass spec, we can improve turnaround time, from sample collection to results.7

Automating mass spec workflows in the lab will dramatically improve the time it takes to analyze samples and get results into clinicians’ hands, especially where sample preparation and separation had previously been a limiting step in many labs.7 Today, mass spec requires lab specialists to process samples, which is time-consuming and laborious. Automating such processes could improve turnaround times and throughput by over 25%.8 “This takes up the time of all our people, which are quite scarce also,” said Dr. de Jonge. 

If processes such as mass spec in the clinical lab become more automated, then patients could receive results shortly after sample collection. Further, by enabling automated workflows for around-the-clock analysis, these lab specialists and technicians can devote their time to more innovative tasks, e.g. uncovering scientific breakthroughs through research.9

Patients should be able to come in, have a blood draw, and then receive results in a few hours, commented Dr. Nybo. “Same day, same stay treatment for patients.” 


Providing patients with faster, more consistent results

It is not a secret that clinicians and patients are demanding results faster and as accurately and consistently as possible. Today, mass spec based approaches offer clinicians information at a greater scale than ever before at even faster rates. By integrating and standardizing automated mass spec in the clinical core lab, we can help speed up patient flow and the consistency of patients' results.

If you want to hear more from Prof. Dr. Robert de Jonge, Prof. Dr. Pieter Vermeersch, and Prof. Dr. Mads Nybo on how utilizing mass spectrometry in the lab can support faster, more consistent results, then click here to register to watch their full presentation

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  1. Stevens and Pukala. (2020). Trends Analyt Chem 132, 116064. Paper available from [Accessed October 2023]

  2. Ciocan-Cartita et al. (2019). Int J Mol Sci 20, 2576. Paper available from [Accessed October 2023]

  3. Waddell Smith. (2013). Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences (Second Edition). Poland: Academic Press. Chapter available from  [Accessed October 2023]

  4. Plebani. (2012). Clin Biochem Rev 33, 85-88. Paper available from [Accessed October 2023]

  5. Siddiqui. (2023).Article available from [Accessed October 2023]

  6. Nakayasu et al. (2021). Nat Protoc 16, 3737-3760. Paper available from [Accessed October 2023]

  7. Swiner et al. (2021). Anal Chem 92, 183-202. Paper available from [Accessed October 2023]

  8. Jannetto. (2015). Article available from [Accessed October 2023]

  9. Sourabi é. (2023). Article available from [Accessed October 2023]