Archive for the ‘Random Error’ Category

The Evolution of Clinical Chemistry in the 20th Century

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

This is a subchapter in the series on developments in diagnostics in the period from 1880 to 1980.

Otto Folin: America’s First Clinical Biochemist

(Extracted from Samuel Meites, AACC History Division; Apr 1996)

Forward by Wendell T. Caraway, PhD.

The first introduction to Folin comes with the Folin-Wu protein-free filktrate, a technique for removing proteins from whole blood or plasma that resulted in water-clear solutions suitable for the determination of glucose, creatinine, uric acid, non-protein nitrogen, and chloride. The major active ingredient used in the precipitation of protein was sodium tungstate prepared “according to Folin”.Folin-Wu sugar tubes were used for the determination of glucose. From these and subsequent encounters, we learned that Folin was a pioneer in methods for the chemical analysis of blood.  The determination of uric acid in serum was the Benedict method in which protein-free filtrate was mixed with solutions of sodium cyanide and arsenophosphotungstic acid and then heated in a water bath to develop a blue color.  A thorough review of the literature revealed that Folin and Denis had published, in 1912, a method for uric acid in which they used sodium carbonate, rather than sodium cyanide, which was modified and largely superceded the “cyanide”method.

Notes from the author.

Modern clinical chemistry began with the application of 20th century quantitative analysis and instrumentation to measure constituents of blood and urine, and relating the values obtained to human health and disease. In the United States, the first impetus propelling this new area of biochemistry was provided by the 1912 papers of Otto Folin.  The only precedent for these stimulating findings was his own earlier and certainly classic papers on the quantitative compositiuon of urine, the laws governing its composition, and studies on the catabolic end products of protein, which led to his ingenious concept of endogenous and exogenous metabolism.  He had already determined blood ammonia in 1902.  This work preceded the entry of Stanley Benedict and Donald Van Slyke into biochemistry.  Once all three of them were active contributors, the future of clinical biochemistry was ensured. Those who would consult the early volumes of the Journal of Biological Chemistry will discover the direction that the work of Otto Follin gave to biochemistry.  This modest, unobstrusive man of Harvard was a powerful stimulus and inspiration to others.

Quantitatively, in the years of his scientific productivity, 1897-1934, Otto Folin published 151 (+ 1) journal articles including a chapter in Aberhalden’s handbook and one in Hammarsten’s Festschrift, but excluding his doctoral dissertation, his published abstracts, and several articles in the proceedings of the Association of Life Insurance Directors of America. He also wrote one monograph on food preservatives and produced five editions of his laboratory manual. He published four articles while studying in Europe (1896-98), 28 while at the McLean Hospital (1900-7), and 119 at Harvard (1908-34). In his banner year of 1912 he published 20 papers. His peak period from 1912-15 included 15 papers, the monograph, and most of the work on the first edition of his laboratory manual.

The quality of Otto Folin’s life’s work relates to its impact on biochemistry, particularly clinical biochemistry.  Otto’s two brilliant collaborators, Willey Denis and Hsien Wu, must be acknowledged.  Without denis, Otto could not have achieved so rapidly the introduction and popularization of modern blood analysis in the U.S. It would be pointless to conjecture how far Otto would have progressed without this pair.

His work provided the basis of the modern approach to the quantitative analysis of blood and urine through improved methods that reduced the body fluid volume required for analysis. He also applied these methods to metabolic studies on tissues as well as body fluids. Because his interests lay in protein metabolism, his major contributions were directede toward measuring nitrogenous waste or end products.His most dramatic achievement was is illustrated by the study of blood nitrogen retention in nephritis and gout.

Folin introduced colorimetry, turbidimetry, and the use of color filters into quantitative clinical biochemistry. He initiated and applied ingeniously conceived reagents and chemical reactions that paved the way for a host of studies by his contemporaries. He introduced the use of phosphomolybdate for detecting phenolic compounds, and phosphomolybdate for uric acid.  These, in turn, led to the quantitation of epinephrine and tyrosin tryptophane, and cystine in protein. The molybdate suggested to Fiske and SubbaRow the determination of phosphate as phosphomolybdate, and the tungsten led to the use of tungstic acid as a protein precipitant.  Phosphomolybdate became the key reagent in thge blood sugar method.  Folin resurrected the abandoned Jaffe reaction and established creatine and creatinine analysis. He also laid the groundwork for the discovery of the discovery of creatine phosphate. Clinical chemistry owes to him the introductionb of Nessler’s reagent, permutit, Lloyd’s reagent, gum ghatti, and preservatives for standards, such as benzoic acid and formaldehyde. Among his distinguished graduate investigators were Bloor, Doisy, fiske, Shaffer, SubbaRow, Sumner and, Wu.

A Golden Age of Clinical Chemistry: 1948–1960

Louis Rosenfeld
Clinical Chemistry 2000; 46(10): 1705–1714

The 12 years from 1948 to 1960 were notable for introduction of the Vacutainer
tube, electrophoresis, radioimmunoassay, and the Auto-Analyzer. Also
appearing during this interval were new organizations, publications, programs,
and services that established a firm foundation for the professional status
of clinical chemists. It was a golden age.
Except for photoelectric colorimeters, the clinical chemistry laboratories
in 1948—and in many places even later—were not very different from
those of 1925. The basic technology and equipment were essentially
unchanged.There was lots of glassware of different kinds—pipettes,
burettes, wooden racks of test tubes, funnels, filter paper,
cylinders, flasks, and beakers—as well as visual colorimeters,
centrifuges, water baths, an exhaust hood for evaporating organic
solvents after extractions, a microscope for examining urine
sediments, a double-pan analytical beam balance for weighing
reagents and standard chemicals, and perhaps a pH meter. The
most complicated apparatus was the Van Slyke volumetric gas
device—manually operated. The emphasis was on classical chemical
and biological techniques that did not require instrumentation.
The unparalleled growth and wide-ranging research that began after
World War II and have continued into the new century, often aided by
government funding for biomedical research and development as civilian
health has become a major national goal, have impacted the operations
of the clinical chemistry laboratory. The years from 1948 to 1960 were
especially notable for the innovative technology that produced better
methods for the investigation of many diseases, in many cases
leading to better treatment.

Pierangelo Bonini
Pure & Appl.Chem.,1982;.54, (11):, 2Ol7—2O3O,

the history of automation in clinical chemistry is the history of how and
when the techno logical progress in the field of analytical methodology
as well as in the field of instrumentation, has helped clinical chemists
to mechanize their procedures and to control them.

Fig. 1 General steps of a clinical chemistry procedure
Especially in the classic clinical chemistry methods, a preliminary treatment
of the sample ( in most cases a deproteinization) was an essential step. This
was a major constraint on the first tentative steps in automation and we will
see how this problem was faced and which new problems arose from avoiding
deproteinization. Mixing samples and reagents is the next step; then there is
a more or less long incubation at different temperatures and finally reading,
which means detection of modifications of some physical property of the
mixture; in most cases the development of a colour can reveal the reaction
but, as well known, many other possibilities exist; finally the result is calculated.

Some 25 years ago, Skeggs (1) presented his paper on continuous flow
automation that was the basis of very successful instruments still used all over
the world. The continuous flow automation reactions take place in an hydraulic
route common to all samples.them after mechanization.

Standards and samples enter the analytical stream segmented by air bubbles
and, as they circulate, specific chemical reactions and physical manipulations
continuously take place in the stream. Finally, after the air bubbles are vented,
the colour intensity, proportional to the solute molecules, is monitored in a
detector flow cell.

It is evident that the most important aim of automation is to correctly process
as many samples in as short a time as possible. This result can be obtained
thanks to many technological advances either from analytical point of view or
from the instrument technology.

–                          SHORTER REACTION TIME
–                        No NEED OF DEPROTEINIZATION

The introduction of very active enzymatic reagents for determination of
substrates resulted in shorter reaction times and possibly, in many cases,
of avoiding deproteinization.Reaction times are also reduced by using kinetic
and fixed time reactions instead of end points. In this case, the measurement
of sample blank does not need a separate tube with separate reaction
mixture. Deproteinization can be avoided also by using some surfac—
tants in the reagent mixture. An automatic calculation of sample blanks
is also possible by using polychromatic analysis. As we can see from this
figure, reduction of reaction times and elimination of tedious ope
rations like deproteinization, are the main results of this analytical progress.

Many relevant improvements in mechanics and optics over the last
twenty years and the tremendous advance in electronics have largely
contributed to the instrumental improvement of clinical chemistry automation.

A recent interesting innovation in the field of centrifugal analyzers consists
in the possibility of adding another reagent to an already mixed sample—
reagent solution. This innovation allows a preincubation to be made and
sample blanks to be read before adding the starter reagent.
The possibility to measure absorbances in cuvettes positioned longitudinally
to the light path, realized in a recent model of centrifugal analyzers, is claimed
to be advantageous to read absorbances in non homogeneous solutions, to
avoid any influence of reagent volume errors on the absorbance and to have
more suitable calculation factors. The interest of fluorimetric assays is
growing more and more, especially in connection with drugs immunofluorimetric
assays. This technology has been recently applied also to centrifugal analyzers
technology. A Xenon lamp generates a high energy light, reflected by a mirror
— holographic — grating operated by a stepping motor.
The selected wavelength of the exciting light passes through a split and
reaches the rotating cuvettes. Fluorescence is then filtered, read by
means of a photomultiplier and compared to the continuously monitored
fluorescence of an appropriate reference compound. In this way, eventual
instability due either to the electro—optical devices or to changes in
physicochemical properties of solution is corrected.


Dr. Yellapragada Subbarow – ATP – Energy for Life

One of the observations Dr SubbaRow made while testing the phosphorus method seemed to provide a clue to the mystery what happens to blood sugar when insulin is administered. Biochemists began investigating the problem when Frederick Banting showed that injections of insulin, the pancreatic hormone, keeps blood sugar under control and keeps diabetics alive.

SubbaRow worked for 18 months on the problem, often dieting and starving along with animals used in experiments. But the initial observations were finally shown to be neither significant nor unique and the project had to be scrapped in September 1926.

Out of the ashes of this project however arose another project that provided the key to the ancient mystery of muscular contraction. Living organisms resist degeneration and destruction with the help of muscles, and biochemists had long believed that a hypothetical inogen provided the energy required for the flexing of muscles at work.

Two researchers at Cambridge University in United Kingdom confirmed that lactic acid is formed when muscles contract and Otto Meyerhof of Germany showed that this lactic acid is a breakdown product of glycogen, the animal starch stored all over the body, particularly in liver, kidneys and muscles. When Professor Archibald Hill of the University College of London demonstrated that conversion of glycogen to lactic acid partly accounts for heat produced during muscle contraction everybody assumed that glycogen was the inogen. And, the 1922 Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology was divided between Hill and Meyerhof.

But how is glycogen converted to lactic acid? Embden, another German biochemist, advanced the hypothesis that blood sugar and phosphorus combine to form a hexose phosphoric ester which breaks down glycogen in the muscle to lactic acid.

In the midst of the insulin experiments, it occurred to Fiske and SubbaRow that Embden’s hypothesis would be supported if normal persons were found to have more hexose phosphate in their muscle and liver than diabetics. For diabetes is the failure of the body to use sugar. There would be little reaction between sugar and phosphorus in a diabetic body. If Embden was right, hexose (sugar) phosphate level in the muscle and liver of diabetic animals should rise when insulin is injected.

Fiske and SubbaRow rendered some animals diabetic by removing their pancreas in the spring of 1926, but they could not record any rise in the organic phosphorus content of muscles or livers after insulin was administered to the animals. Sugar phosphates were indeed produced in their animals but they were converted so quickly by enzymes to lactic acid that Fiske and SubbaRow could not detect them with methods then available. This was fortunate for science because, in their mistaken belief that Embden was wrong, they began that summer an extensive study of organic phosphorus compounds in the muscle “to repudiate Meyerhof completely”.

The departmental budget was so poor that SubbaRow often waited on the back streets of Harvard Medical School at night to capture cats he needed for the experiments. When he prepared the cat muscles for estimating their phosphorus content, SubbaRow found he could not get a constant reading in the colorimeter. The intensity of the blue colour went on rising for thirty minutes. Was there something in muscle which delayed the colour reaction? If yes, the time for full colour development should increase with the increase in the quantity of the sample. But the delay was not greater when the sample was 10 c.c. instead of 5 c.c. The only other possibility was that muscle had an organic compound which liberated phosphorus as the reaction in the colorimeter proceeded. This indeed was the case, it turned out. It took a whole year.

The mysterious colour delaying substance was a compound of phosphoric acid and creatine and was named Phosphocreatine. It accounted for two-thirds of the phosphorus in the resting muscle. When they put muscle to work by electric stimulation, the Phosphocreatine level fell and the inorganic phosphorus level rose correspondingly. It completely disappeared when they cut off the blood supply and drove the muscle to the point of “fatigue” by continued electric stimulation. And, presto! It reappeared when the fatigued muscle was allowed a period of rest.

Phosphocreatine created a stir among the scientists present when Fiske unveiled it before the American Society of Biological Chemists at Rochester in April 1927. The Journal of American Medical Association hailed the discovery in an editorial. The Rockefeller Foundation awarded a fellowship that helped SubbaRow to live comfortably for the first time since his arrival in the United States. All of Harvard Medical School was caught up with an enthusiasm that would be a life-time memory for con­temporary students. The students were in awe of the medium-sized, slightly stoop shouldered, “coloured” man regarded as one of the School’s top research workers.

SubbaRow’s carefully conducted series of experiments disproved Meyerhof’s assumptions about the glycogen-lactic acid cycle. His calculations fully accounted for the heat output during muscle contraction. Hill had not been able to fully account for this in terms of Meyerhof’s theory. Clearly the Nobel Committee was in haste in awarding the 1922 physiology prize, but the biochemistry orthodoxy led by Meyerhof and Hill themselves was not too eager to give up their belief in glycogen as the prime source of muscular energy.

Fiske and SubbaRow were fully upheld and the Meyerhof-Hill­ theory finally rejected in 1930 when a Danish physiologist showed that muscles can work to exhaustion without the aid of glycogen or the stimulation of lactic acid.

Fiske and SubbaRow had meanwhile followed a substance that was formed by the combination of phosphorus, liberated from Phosphocreatine, with an unidentified compound in muscle. SubbaRow isolated it and identified it as a chemical in which adenylic acid was linked to two extra molecules of phosphoric acid. By the time he completed the work to the satisfaction of Fiske, it was August 1929 when Harvard Medical School played host to the 13th International Physiological Congress.

ATP was presented to the gathered scientists before the Congress ended. To the dismay of Fiske and SubbaRow, a few days later arrived in Boston a German science journal, published 16 days before the Congress opened. It carried a letter from Karl Lohmann of Meyerhof’s laboratory, saying he had isolated from muscle a compound of adenylic acid linked to two molecules of phosphoric acid!

While Archibald Hill never adjusted himself to the idea that the basis of his Nobel Prize work had been demolished, Otto Meyerhof and his associates had seen the importance of Phosphocreatine discovery and plunged themselves into follow-up studies in competition with Fiske and SubbaRow. Two associates of Hill had in fact stumbled upon Phosphocreatine about the same time as Fiske and SubbaRow but their loyalty to Meyerhof-Hill theory acted as blinkers and their hasty and premature publications reveal their confusion about both the nature and significance of Phosphocreatine.

The discovery of ATP and its significance helped reveal the full story of muscular contraction: Glycogen arriving in muscle gets converted into lactic acid which is siphoned off to liver for re-synthesis of glycogen. This cycle yields three molecules of ATP and is important in delivering usable food energy to the muscle. Glycolysis or break up of glycogen is relatively slow in getting started and in any case muscle can retain ATP only in small quantities. In the interval between the begin­ning of muscle activity and the arrival of fresh ATP from glycolysis, ­Phosphocreatine maintains ATP supply by re-synthesizing it as fast as its energy terminals are used up by muscle for its activity.

Muscular contraction made possible by ATP helps us not only to move our limbs and lift weights but keeps us alive. The heart is after all a muscle pouch and millions of muscle cells embedded in the walls of arteries keep the life-sustaining blood pumped by the heart coursing through body organs. ATP even helps get new life started by powering the sperm’s motion toward the egg as well as the spectacular transformation of the fertilized egg in the womb.

Archibald Hill for long denied any role for ATP in muscle contraction, saying ATP has not been shown to break down in the intact muscle. This objection was also met in 1962 when University of Pennsylvania scientists showed that muscles can contract and relax normally even when glycogen and Phosphocreatine are kept under check with an inhibitor.

Michael Somogyi

Michael Somogyi was born in Reinsdorf, Austria-Hungary, in 1883. He received a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Budapest, and after spending some time there as a graduate assistant in biochemistry, he immigrated to the United States. From 1906 to 1908 he was an assistant in biochemistry at Cornell University.

Returning to his native land in 1908, he became head of the Municipal Laboratory in Budapest, and in 1914 he was granted his Ph.D. After World War I, the politically unstable situation in his homeland led him to return to the United States where he took a job as an instructor in biochemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. While there he assisted Philip A. Shaffer and Edward Adelbert Doisy, Sr., a future Nobel Prize recipient, in developing a new method for the preparation of insulin in sufficiently large amounts and of sufficient purity to make it a viable treatment for diabetes. This early work with insulin helped foster Somogyi’s lifelong interest in the treatment and cure of diabetes. He was the first biochemist appointed to the staff of the newly opened Jewish Hospital, and he remained there as the director of their clinical laboratory until his retirement in 1957.

Arterial Blood Gases.  Van Slyke.

The test is used to determine the pH of the blood, the partial pressure of carbon dioxide and oxygen, and the bicarbonate level. Many blood gas analyzers will also report concentrations of lactate, hemoglobin, several electrolytes, oxyhemoglobin, carboxyhemoglobin and methemoglobin. ABG testing is mainly used in pulmonology and critical care medicine to determine gas exchange which reflect gas exchange across the alveolar-capillary membrane.

DONALD DEXTER VAN SLYKE died on May 4, 1971, after a long and productive career that spanned three generations of biochemists and physicians. He left behind not only a bibliography of 317 journal publications and 5 books, but also more than 100 persons who had worked with him and distinguished themselves in biochemistry and academic medicine. His doctoral thesis, with Gomberg at University of Michigan was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 1907.  Van Slyke received an invitation from Dr. Simon Flexner, Director of the Rockefeller Institute, to come to New York for an interview. In 1911 he spent a year in Berlin with Emil Fischer, who was then the leading chemist of the scientific world. He was particularly impressed by Fischer’s performing all laboratory operations quantitatively —a procedure Van followed throughout his life. Prior to going to Berlin, he published the classic nitrous acid method for the quantitative determination of primary aliphatic amino groups, the first of the many gasometric procedures devised by Van Slyke, and made possible the determination of amino acids. It was the primary method used to study amino acid composition of proteins for years before chromatography. Thus, his first seven postdoctoral years were centered around the development of better methodology for protein composition and amino acid metabolism.

With his colleague G. M. Meyer, he first demonstrated that amino acids, liberated during digestion in the intestine, are absorbed into the bloodstream, that they are removed by the tissues, and that the liver alone possesses the ability to convert the amino acid nitrogen into urea.  From the study of the kinetics of urease action, Van Slyke and Cullen developed equations that depended upon two reactions: (1) the combination of enzyme and substrate in stoichiometric proportions and (2) the reaction of the combination into the end products. Published in 1914, this formulation, involving two velocity constants, was similar to that arrived at contemporaneously by Michaelis and Menten in Germany in 1913.

He transferred to the Rockefeller Institute’s Hospital in 2013, under Dr. Rufus Cole, where “Men who were studying disease clinically had the right to go as deeply into its fundamental nature as their training allowed, and in the Rockefeller Institute’s Hospital every man who was caring for patients should also be engaged in more fundamental study”.  The study of diabetes was already under way by Dr. F. M. Allen, but patients inevitably died of acidosis.  Van Slyke reasoned that if incomplete oxidation of fatty acids in the body led to the accumulation of acetoacetic and beta-hydroxybutyric acids in the blood, then a reaction would result between these acids and the bicarbonate ions that would lead to a lower than-normal bicarbonate concentration in blood plasma. The problem thus became one of devising an analytical method that would permit the quantitative determination of bicarbonate concentration in small amounts of blood plasma.  He ingeniously devised a volumetric glass apparatus that was easy to use and required less than ten minutes for the determination of the total carbon dioxide in one cubic centimeter of plasma.  It also was soon found to be an excellent apparatus by which to determine blood oxygen concentrations, thus leading to measurements of the percentage saturation of blood hemoglobin with oxygen. This found extensive application in the study of respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. It also led to the quantitative study of cyanosis and a monograph on the subject by C. Lundsgaard and Van Slyke.

In all, Van Slyke and his colleagues published twenty-one papers under the general title “Studies of Acidosis,” beginning in 1917 and ending in 1934. They included not only chemical manifestations of acidosis, but Van Slyke, in No. 17 of the series (1921), elaborated and expanded the subject to describe in chemical terms the normal and abnormal variations in the acid-base balance of the blood. This was a landmark in understanding acid-base balance pathology.  Within seven years after Van moved to the Hospital, he had published a total of fifty-three papers, thirty-three of them coauthored with clinical colleagues.

In 1920, Van Slyke and his colleagues undertook a comprehensive investigation of gas and electrolyte equilibria in blood. McLean and Henderson at Harvard had made preliminary studies of blood as a physico-chemical system, but realized that Van Slyke and his colleagues at the Rockefeller Hospital had superior techniques and the facilities necessary for such an undertaking. A collaboration thereupon began between the two laboratories, which resulted in rapid progress toward an exact physico-chemical description of the role of hemoglobin in the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide, of the distribution of diffusible ions and water between erythrocytes and plasma, and of factors such as degree of oxygenation of hemoglobin and hydrogen ion concentration that modified these distributions. In this Van Slyke revised his volumetric gas analysis apparatus into a manometric method.  The manometric apparatus proved to give results that were from five to ten times more accurate.

A series of papers on the CO2 titration curves of oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin, of oxygenated and reduced whole blood, and of blood subjected to different degrees of oxygenation and on the distribution of diffusible ions in blood resulted.  These developed equations that predicted the change in distribution of water and diffusible ions between blood plasma and blood cells when there was a change in pH of the oxygenated blood. A significant contribution of Van Slyke and his colleagues was the application of the Gibbs-Donnan Law to the blood—regarded as a two-phase system, in which one phase (the erythrocytes) contained a high concentration of nondiffusible negative ions, i.e., those associated with hemoglobin, and cations, which were not freely exchaThe importance of Vanngeable between cells and plasma. By changing the pH through varying the CO2 tension, the concentration of negative hemoglobin charges changed in a predictable amount. This, in turn, changed the distribution of diffusible anions such as Cl” and HCO3″ in order to restore the Gibbs-Donnan equilibrium. Redistribution of water occurred to restore osmotic equilibrium. The experimental results confirmed the predictions of the equations.

As a spin-off from the physico-chemical study of the blood, Van undertook, in 1922, to put the concept of buffer value of weak electrolytes on a mathematically exact basis.

This proved to be useful in determining buffer values of mixed, polyvalent, and amphoteric electrolytes, and put the understanding of buffering on a quantitative basis. A monograph in Medicine entitled “Observation on the Courses of Different Types of Bright’s Disease, and on the Resultant Changes in Renal Anatomy,” was a landmark that related the changes occurring at different stages of renal deterioration to the quantitative changes taking place in kidney function. During this period, Van Slyke and R. M. Archibald identified glutamine as the source of urinary ammonia. During World War II, Van and his colleagues documented the effect of shock on renal function and, with R. A. Phillips, developed a simple method, based on specific gravity, suitable for use in the field.

Over 100 of Van’s 300 publications were devoted to methodology. The importance of Van Slyke’s contribution to clinical chemical methodology cannot be overestimated. These included the blood organic constituents (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, amino acids, urea, nonprotein nitrogen, and phospholipids) and the inorganic constituents (total cations, calcium, chlorides, phosphate, and the gases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen). It was said that a Van Slyke manometric apparatus was almost all the special equipment needed to perform most of the clinical chemical analyses customarily performed prior to the introduction of photocolorimeters and spectrophotometers for such determinations.

The progress made in the medical sciences in genetics, immunology, endocrinology, and antibiotics during the second half of the twentieth century obscures at times the progress that was made in basic and necessary biochemical knowledge during the first half. Methods capable of giving accurate quantitative chemical information on biological material had to be painstakingly devised; basic questions on chemical behavior and metabolism had to be answered; and, finally, those factors that adversely modified the normal chemical reactions in the body so that abnormal conditions arise that we characterize as disease states had to be identified.

Viewed in retrospect, he combined in one scientific lifetime (1) basic contributions to the chemistry of body constituents and their chemical behavior in the body, (2) a chemical understanding of physiological functions of certain organ systems (notably the respiratory and renal), and (3) how such information could be exploited in the understanding and treatment of disease. That outstanding additions to knowledge in all three categories were possible was in large measure due to his sound and broadly based chemical preparation, his ingenuity in devising means of accurate measurements of chemical constituents, and the opportunity given him at the Hospital of the Rockefeller Institute to study disease in company with physicians.

In addition, he found time to work collaboratively with Dr. John P. Peters of Yale on the classic, two-volume Quantitative Clinical Chemistry. In 1922, John P. Peters, who had just gone to Yale from Van Slyke’s laboratory as an Associate Professor of Medicine, was asked by a publisher to write a modest handbook for clinicians describing useful chemical methods and discussing their application to clinical problems. It was originally to be called “Quantitative Chemistry in Clinical Medicine.” He soon found that it was going to be a bigger job than he could handle alone and asked Van Slyke to join him in writing it. Van agreed, and the two men proceeded to draw up an outline and divide up the writing of the first drafts of the chapters between them. They also agreed to exchange each chapter until it met the satisfaction of both.At the time it was published in 1931, it contained practically all that could be stated with confidence about those aspects of disease that could be and had been studied by chemical means. It was widely accepted throughout the medical world as the “Bible” of quantitative clinical chemistry, and to this day some of the chapters have not become outdated.

Paul Flory

Paul J. Flory was born in Sterling, Illinois, in 1910. He attended Manchester College, an institution for which he retained an abiding affection. He did his graduate work at Ohio State University, earning his Ph.D. in 1934. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1974, largely for his work in the area of the physical chemistry of macromolecules.

Flory worked as a newly minted Ph.D. for the DuPont Company in the Central Research Department with Wallace H. Carothers. This early experience with practical research instilled in Flory a lifelong appreciation for the value of industrial application. His work with the Air Force Office of Strategic Research and his later support for the Industrial Affiliates program at Stanford University demonstrated his belief in the need for theory and practice to work hand-in-hand.

Following the death of Carothers in 1937, Flory joined the University of Cincinnati’s Basic Science Research Laboratory. After the war Flory taught at Cornell University from 1948 until 1957, when he became executive director of the Mellon Institute. In 1961 he joined the chemistry faculty at Stanford, where he would remain until his retirement.

Among the high points of Flory’s years at Stanford were his receipt of the National Medal of Science (1974), the Priestley Award (1974), the J. Willard Gibbs Medal (1973), the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry (1969), and the Charles Goodyear Medal (1968). He also traveled extensively, including working tours to the U.S.S.R. and the People’s Republic of China.

Abraham Savitzky

Abraham Savitzky was born on May 29, 1919, in New York City. He received his bachelor’s degree from the New York State College for Teachers in 1941. After serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, he obtained a master’s degree in 1947 and a Ph.D. in 1949 in physical chemistry from Columbia University.

In 1950, after working at Columbia for a year, he began a long career with the Perkin-Elmer Corporation. Savitzky started with Perkin-Elmer as a staff scientist who was chiefly concerned with the design and development of infrared instruments. By 1956 he was named Perkin-Elmer’s new product coordinator for the Instrument Division, and as the years passed, he continued to gain more and more recognition for his work in the company. Most of his work with Perkin-Elmer focused on computer-aided analytical chemistry, data reduction, infrared spectroscopy, time-sharing systems, and computer plotting. He retired from Perkin-Elmer in 1985.

Abraham Savitzky holds seven U.S. patents pertaining to computerization and chemical apparatus. During his long career he presented numerous papers and wrote several manuscripts, including “Smoothing and Differentiation of Data by Simplified Least Squares Procedures.” This paper, which is the collaborative effort of Savitzky and Marcel J. E. Golay, was published in volume 36 of Analytical Chemistry, July 1964. It is one of the most famous, respected, and heavily cited articles in its field. In recognition of his many significant accomplishments in the field of analytical chemistry and computer science, Savitzky received the Society of Applied Spectroscopy Award in 1983 and the Williams-Wright Award from the Coblenz Society in 1986.

Samuel Natelson

Samuel Natelson attended City College of New York and received his B.S. in chemistry in 1928. As a graduate student, Natelson attended New York University, receiving a Sc.M. in 1930 and his Ph.D. in 1931. After receiving his Ph.D., he began his career teaching at Girls Commercial High School. While maintaining his teaching position, Natelson joined the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn in 1933. Working as a clinical chemist for Jewish Hospital, Natelson first conceived of the idea of a society by and for clinical chemists. Natelson worked to organize the nine charter members of the American Association of Clinical Chemists, which formally began in 1948. A pioneer in the field of clinical chemistry, Samuel Natelson has become a role model for the clinical chemist. Natelson developed the usage of microtechniques in clinical chemistry. During this period, he served as a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the 1960s, helping analyze the effect of weightless atmospheres on astronauts’ blood. Natelson spent his later career as chair of the biochemistry department at Michael Reese Hospital and as a lecturer at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Arnold Beckman

Arnold Orville Beckman (April 10, 1900 – May 18, 2004) was an American chemist, inventor, investor, and philanthropist. While a professor at Caltech, he founded Beckman Instruments based on his 1934 invention of the pH meter, a device for measuring acidity, later considered to have “revolutionized the study of chemistry and biology”.[1] He also developed the DU spectrophotometer, “probably the most important instrument ever developed towards the advancement of bioscience”.[2] Beckman funded the first transistor company, thus giving rise to Silicon Valley.[3]

He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1922 and his master’s degree in physical chemistry in 1923. For his master’s degree he studied the thermodynamics of aqueous ammonia solutions, a subject introduced to him by T. A. White.. Beckman decided to go to Caltech for his doctorate. He stayed there for a year, before returning to New York to be near his fiancée, Mabel. He found a job with Western Electric’s engineering department, the precursor to the Bell Telephone Laboratories. Working with Walter A. Shewhart, Beckman developed quality control programs for the manufacture of vacuum tubes and learned about circuit design. It was here that Beckman discovered his interest in electronics.

In 1926 the couple moved back to California and Beckman resumed his studies at Caltech. He became interested in ultraviolet photolysis and worked with his doctoral advisor, Roscoe G. Dickinson, on an instrument to find the energy of ultraviolet light. It worked by shining the ultraviolet light onto a thermocouple, converting the incident heat into electricity, which drove a galvanometer. After receiving a Ph.D. in photochemistry in 1928 for this application of quantum theory to chemical reactions, Beckman was asked to stay on at Caltech as an instructor and then as a professor. Linus Pauling, another of Roscoe G. Dickinson’s graduate students, was also asked to stay on at Caltech.

During his time at Caltech, Beckman was active in teaching at both the introductory and advanced graduate levels. Beckman shared his expertise in glass-blowing by teaching classes in the machine shop. He also taught classes in the design and use of research instruments. Beckman dealt first-hand with the chemists’ need for good instrumentation as manager of the chemistry department’s instrument shop. Beckman’s interest in electronics made him very popular within the chemistry department at Caltech, as he was very skilled in building measuring instruments.

Over the time that he was at Caltech, the focus of the department increasingly moved towards pure science and away from chemical engineering and applied chemistry. Arthur Amos Noyes, head of the chemistry division, encouraged both Beckman and chemical engineer William Lacey to be in contact with real-world engineers and chemists, and Robert Andrews Millikan, Caltech’s president, referred technical questions to Beckman from government and businessess.

Sunkist Growers was having problems with its manufacturing process. Lemons that were not saleable as produce were made into pectin or citric acid, with sulfur dioxide used as a preservative. Sunkist needed to know the acidity of the product at any given time, Chemist Glen Joseph at Sunkist was attempting to measure the hydrogen-ion concentration in lemon juice electrochemically, but sulfur dioxide damaged hydrogen electrodes, and non-reactive glass electrodes produced weak signals and were fragile.

Joseph approached Beckman, who proposed that instead of trying to increase the sensitivity of his measurements, he amplify his results. Beckman, familiar with glassblowing, electricity, and chemistry, suggested a design for a vacuum-tube amplifier and ended up building a working apparatus for Joseph. The glass electrode used to measure pH was placed in a grid circuit in the vacuum tube, producing an amplified signal which could then be read by an electronic meter. The prototype was so useful that Joseph requested a second unit.

Beckman saw an opportunity, and rethinking the project, decided to create a complete chemical instrument which could be easily transported and used by nonspecialists. By October 1934, he had registered patent application U.S. Patent No. 2,058,761 for his “acidimeter”, later renamed the pH meter. Although it was priced expensively at $195, roughly the starting monthly wage for a chemistry professor at that time, it was significantly cheaper than the estimated cost of building a comparable instrument from individual components, about $500. The original pH meter weighed in at nearly 7 kg, but was a substantial improvement over a benchful of delicate equipment. The earliest meter had a design glitch, in that the pH readings changed with the depth of immersion of the electrodes, but Beckman fixed the problem by sealing the glass bulb of the electrode. The pH meter is an important device for measuring the pH of a solution, and by 11 May 1939, sales were successful enough that Beckman left Caltech to become the full-time president of National Technical Laboratories. By 1940, Beckman was able to take out a loan to build his own 12,000 square foot factory in South Pasadena.

In 1940, the equipment needed to analyze emission spectra in the visible spectrum could cost a laboratory as much as $3,000, a huge amount at that time. There was also growing interest in examining ultraviolet spectra beyond that range. In the same way that he had created a single easy-to-use instrument for measuring pH, Beckman made it a goal to create an easy-to-use instrument for spectrophotometry. Beckman’s research team, led by Howard Cary, developed several models.

The new spectrophotometers used a prism to spread light into its absorption spectra and a phototube to “read” the spectra and generate electrical signals, creating a standardized “fingerprint” for the material tested. With Beckman’s model D, later known as the DU spectrophotometer, National Technical Laboratories successfully created the first easy-to-use single instrument containing both the optical and electronic components needed for ultraviolet-absorption spectrophotometry. The user could insert a sample, dial up the desired frequency, and read the amount of absorption of that frequency from a simple meter. It produced accurate absorption spectra in both the ultraviolet and the visible regions of the spectrum with relative ease and repeatable accuracy. The National Bureau of Standards ran tests to certify that the DU’s results were accurate and repeatable and recommended its use.

Beckman’s DU spectrophotometer has been referred to as the “Model T” of scientific instruments: “This device forever simplified and streamlined chemical analysis, by allowing researchers to perform a 99.9% accurate biological assessment of a substance within minutes, as opposed to the weeks required previously for results of only 25% accuracy.” Nobel laureate Bruce Merrifield is quoted as calling the DU spectrophotometer “probably the most important instrument ever developed towards the advancement of bioscience.”

Development of the spectrophotometer also had direct relevance to the war effort. The role of vitamins in health was being studied, and scientists wanted to identify Vitamin A-rich foods to keep soldiers healthy. Previous methods involved feeding rats for several weeks, then performing a biopsy to estimate Vitamin A levels. The DU spectrophotometer yielded better results in a matter of minutes. The DU spectrophotometer was also an important tool for scientists studying and producing the new wonder drug penicillin. By the end of the war, American pharmaceutical companies were producing 650 billion units of penicillin each month. Much of the work done in this area during World War II was kept secret until after the war.

Beckman also developed the infrared spectrophotometer, first the the IR-1, then, in 1953, he redesigned the instrument. The result was the IR-4, which could be operated using either a single or double beam of infrared light. This allowed a user to take both the reference measurement and the sample measurement at the same time.

Beckman Coulter Inc., is an American company that makes biomedical laboratory instruments. Founded by Caltech professor Arnold O. Beckman in 1935 as National Technical Laboratories to commercialize a pH meter that he had invented, the company eventually grew to employ over 10,000 people, with $2.4 billion in annual sales by 2004. Its current headquarters are in Brea, California.

In the 1940s, Beckman changed the name to Arnold O. Beckman, Inc. to sell oxygen analyzers, the Helipot precision potentiometer, and spectrophotometers. In the 1950s, the company name changed to Beckman Instruments, Inc.

Beckman was contacted by Paul Rosenberg. Rosenberg worked at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory. The lab was part of a secret network of research institutions in both the United States and Britain that were working to develop radar, “radio detecting and ranging”. The project was interested in Beckman because of the high quality of the tuning knobs or “potentiometers” which were used on his pH meters. Beckman had trademarked the design of the pH meter knobs, under the name “helipot” for “helical potentiometer”. Rosenberg had found that the helipot was more precise, by a factor of ten, than other knobs. He redesigned the knob to have a continuous groove, in which the contact could not be jarred out of contact.

Beckman instruments were also used by the Manhattan Project to measure radiation in gas-filled, electrically charged ionization chambers in nuclear reactors.
The pH meter was adapted to do the job with a relatively minor adjustment – substituting an input-load resistor for the glass electrode. As a result, Beckman Instruments developed a new product, the micro-ammeter

After the war, Beckman developed oxygen analyzers that were used to monitor conditions in incubators for premature babies. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University used them to determine recommendations for healthy oxygen levels for incubators.

Beckman himself was approached by California governor Goodwin Knight to head a Special Committee on Air Pollution, to propose ways to combat smog. At the end of 1953, the committee made its findings public. The “Beckman Bible” advised key steps to be taken immediately:

In 1955, Beckman established the seminal Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory as a division of Beckman Instruments to begin commercializing the semiconductor transistor technology invented by Caltech alumnus William Shockley. The Shockley Laboratory was established in nearby Mountain View, California, and thus, “Silicon Valley” was born.

Beckman also saw that computers and automation offered a myriad of opportunities for integration into instruments, and the development of new instruments.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation was incorporated in September 1977.  At the time of Beckman’s death, the Foundation had given more than 400 million dollars to a variety of charities and organizations. In 1990, it was considered one of the top ten foundations in California, based on annual gifts. Donations chiefly went to scientists and scientific causes as well as Beckman’s alma maters. He is quoted as saying, “I accumulated my wealth by selling instruments to scientists,… so I thought it would be appropriate to make contributions to science, and that’s been my number one guideline for charity.”

Wallace H. Coulter

Engineer, Inventor, Entrepreneur, Visionary

Wallace Henry Coulter was an engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and visionary. He was co-founder and Chairman of Coulter® Corporation, a worldwide medical diagnostics company headquartered in Miami, Florida. The two great passions of his life were applying engineering principles to scientific research, and embracing the diversity of world cultures. The first passion led him to invent the Coulter Principle™, the reference method for counting and sizing microscopic particles suspended in a fluid.

This invention served as the cornerstone for automating the labor intensive process of counting and testing blood. With his vision and tenacity, Wallace Coulter, was a founding father in the field of laboratory hematology, the science and study of blood. His global viewpoint and passion for world cultures inspired him to establish over twenty international subsidiaries. He recognized that it was imperative to employ locally based staff to service his customers before this became standard business strategy.

Wallace’s first attempts to patent his invention were turned away by more than one attorney who believed “you cannot patent a hole”. Persistent as always, Wallace finally applied for his first patent in 1949 and it was issued on October 20, 1953. That same year, two prototypes were sent to the National Institutes of Health for evaluation. Shortly after, the NIH published its findings in two key papers, citing improved accuracy and convenience of the Coulter method of counting blood cells. That same year, Wallace publicly disclosed his invention in his one and only technical paper at the National Electronics Conference, “High Speed Automatic Blood Cell Counter and Cell Size Analyzer”.

Leonard Skeggs was the inventor of the first continuous flow analyser way back in 1957. This groundbreaking event completely changed the way that chemistry was carried out. Many of the laborious tests that dominated lab work could be automated, increasing productivity and freeing personnel for other more challenging tasks

Continuous flow analysis and its offshoots and decedents are an integral part of modern chemistry. It might therefore be some conciliation to Leonard Skeggs to know that not only was he the beneficiary of an appellation with a long and fascinating history, he also created a revolution in wet chemistry that is still with us today.


The AutoAnalyzer is an automated analyzer using a flow technique called continuous flow analysis (CFA), first made by the Technicon Corporation. The instrument was invented 1957 by Leonard Skeggs, PhD and commercialized by Jack Whitehead’s Technicon Corporation. The first applications were for clinical analysis, but methods for industrial analysis soon followed. The design is based on separating a continuously flowing stream with air bubbles.

In continuous flow analysis (CFA) a continuous stream of material is divided by air bubbles into discrete segments in which chemical reactions occur. The continuous stream of liquid samples and reagents are combined and transported in tubing and mixing coils. The tubing passes the samples from one apparatus to the other with each apparatus performing different functions, such as distillation, dialysis, extraction, ion exchange, heating, incubation, and subsequent recording of a signal. An essential principle of the system is the introduction of air bubbles. The air bubbles segment each sample into discrete packets and act as a barrier between packets to prevent cross contamination as they travel down the length of the tubing. The air bubbles also assist mixing by creating turbulent flow (bolus flow), and provide operators with a quick and easy check of the flow characteristics of the liquid. Samples and standards are treated in an exactly identical manner as they travel the length of the tubing, eliminating the necessity of a steady state signal, however, since the presence of bubbles create an almost square wave profile, bringing the system to steady state does not significantly decrease throughput ( third generation CFA analyzers average 90 or more samples per hour) and is desirable in that steady state signals (chemical equilibrium) are more accurate and reproducible.

A continuous flow analyzer (CFA) consists of different modules including a sampler, pump, mixing coils, optional sample treatments (dialysis, distillation, heating, etc.), a detector, and data generator. Most continuous flow analyzers depend on color reactions using a flow through photometer, however, also methods have been developed that use ISE, flame photometry, ICAP, fluorometry, and so forth.

Flow injection analysis (FIA), was introduced in 1975 by Ruzicka and Hansen.
Jaromir (Jarda) Ruzicka is a Professor  of Chemistry (Emeritus at the University of Washington and Affiliate at the University of Hawaii), and member of the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences. Born in Prague in 1934, he graduated from the Department of Analytical Chemistry, Facultyof Sciences, Charles University. In 1968, when Soviets occupied Czechoslovakia, he emigrated to Denmark. There, he joined The Technical University of Denmark, where, ten years  later, received a newly created Chair in Analytical Chemistry. When Jarda met Elo Hansen, they invented Flow Injection.

The first generation of FIA technology, termed flow injection (FI), was inspired by the AutoAnalyzer technique invented by Skeggs in early 1950s. While Skeggs’ AutoAnalyzer uses air segmentation to separate a flowing stream into numerous discrete segments to establish a long train of individual samples moving through a flow channel, FIA systems separate each sample from subsequent sample with a carrier reagent. While the AutoAnalyzer mixes sample homogeneously with reagents, in all FIA techniques sample and reagents are merged to form a concentration gradient that yields analysis results

Arthur Karmen.

Dr. Karmen was born in New York City in 1930. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1946 and earned an A.B. and M.D. in 1950 and 1954, respectively, from New York University. In 1952, while a medical student working on a summer project at Memorial-Sloan Kettering, he used paper chromatography of amino acids to demonstrate the presence of glutamic-oxaloacetic and glutaniic-pyruvic ransaminases (aspartate and alanine aminotransferases) in serum and blood. In 1954, he devised the spectrophotometric method for measuring aspartate aminotransferase in serum, which, with minor modifications, is still used for diagnostic testing today. When developing this assay, he studied the reaction of NADH with serum and demonstrated the presence of lactate and malate dehydrogenases, both of which were also later used in diagnosis. Using the spectrophotometric method, he found that aspartate aminotransferase increased in the period immediately after an acute myocardial infarction and did the pilot studies that showed its diagnostic utility in heart and liver diseases.  This became as important as the EKG. It was replaced in cardiology usage by the MB isoenzyme of creatine kinase, which was driven by Burton Sobel’s work on infarct size, and later by the troponins.

History of Laboratory Medicine at Yale University.

The roots of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Yale can be traced back to John Peters, the head of what he called the “Chemical Division” of the Department of Internal Medicine, subsequently known as the Section of Metabolism, who co-authored with Donald Van Slyke the landmark 1931 textbook Quantitative Clinical Chemistry (2.3); and to Pauline Hald, research collaborator of Dr. Peters who subsequently served as Director of Clinical Chemistry at Yale-New Haven Hospital for many years. In 1947, Miss Hald reported the very first flame photometric measurements of sodium and potassium in serum (4). This study helped to lay the foundation for modern studies of metabolism and their application to clinical care.

The Laboratory Medicine program at Yale had its inception in 1958 as a section of Internal Medicine under the leadership of David Seligson. In 1965, Laboratory Medicine achieved autonomous section status and in 1971, became a full-fledged academic department. Dr. Seligson, who served as the first Chair, pioneered modern automation and computerized data processing in the clinical laboratory. In particular, he demonstrated the feasibility of discrete sample handling for automation that is now the basis of virtually all automated chemistry analyzers. In addition, Seligson and Zetner demonstrated the first clinical use of atomic absorption spectrophotometry. He was one of the founding members of the major Laboratory Medicine academic society, the Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists.

Nathan Gochman.  Developer of Automated Chemistries.

Nathan Gochman, PhD, has over 40 years of experience in the clinical diagnostics industry. This includes academic teaching and research, and 30 years in the pharmaceutical and in vitro diagnostics industry. He has managed R & D, technical marketing and technical support departments. As a leader in the industry he was President of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) and the National Committee for Clinical Laboratory Standards (NCCLS, now CLSI). He is currently a Consultant to investment firms and IVD companies.

William Sunderman

A doctor and scientist who lived a remarkable century and beyond — making medical advances, playing his Stradivarius violin at Carnegie Hall at 99 and being honored as the nation’s oldest worker at 100.

He developed a method for measuring glucose in the blood, the Sunderman Sugar Tube, and was one of the first doctors to use insulin to bring a patient out of a diabetic coma. He established quality-control techniques for medical laboratories that ended the wide variation in the results of laboratories doing the same tests.

He taught at several medical schools and founded and edited the journal Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Science. In World War II, he was a medical director for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.

Dr. Sunderman was president of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists and a founding governor of the College of American Pathologists. He also helped organize the Association of Clinical Scientists and was its first president.

Yale Department of Laboratory Medicine

The roots of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Yale can be traced back to John Peters, the head of what he called the “Chemical Division” of the Department of Internal Medicine, subsequently known as the Section of Metabolism, who co-authored with Donald Van Slyke the landmark 1931 textbook Quantitative Clinical Chemistry; and to Pauline Hald, research collaborator of Dr. Peters who subsequently served as Director of Clinical Chemistry at Yale-New Haven Hospital for many years. In 1947, Miss Hald reported the very first flame photometric measurements of sodium and potassium in serum. This study helped to lay the foundation for modern studies of metabolism and their application to clinical care.

The Laboratory Medicine program at Yale had its inception in 1958 as a section of Internal Medicine under the leadership of David Seligson. In 1965, Laboratory Medicine achieved autonomous section status and in 1971, became a full-fledged academic department. Dr. Seligson, who served as the first Chair, pioneered modern automation and computerized data processing in the clinical laboratory. In particular, he demonstrated the feasibility of discrete sample handling for automation that is now the basis of virtually all automated chemistry analyzers. In addition, Seligson and Zetner demonstrated the first clinical use of atomic absorption spectrophotometry. He was one of the founding members of the major Laboratory Medicine academic society, the Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists.

The discipline of clinical chemistry and the broader field of laboratory medicine, as they are practiced today, are attributed in no small part to Seligson’s vision and creativity.

Born in Philadelphia in 1916, Seligson graduated from University of Maryland and received a D.Sc. from Johns Hopkins University and an M.D. from the University of Utah. In 1953, he served as captain in the U.S. Army, chief of the Hepatic and Metabolic Disease Laboratory at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Recruited to Yale and Grace-New Haven Hospital in 1958 from the University of Pennsylvania as professor of internal medicine at the medical school and the first director of clinical laboratories at the hospital, Seligson subsequently established the infrastructure of the Department of Laboratory Medicine, creating divisions of clinical chemistry, microbiology, transfusion medicine (blood banking) and hematology – each with its own strong clinical, teaching and research programs.

Challenging the continuous flow approach, Seligson designed, built and validated “discrete sample handling” instruments wherein each sample was treated independently, which allowed better choice of methods and greater efficiency. Today continuous flow has essentially disappeared and virtually all modern automated clinical laboratory instruments are based upon discrete sample handling technology.

Seligson was one of the early visionaries who recognized the potential for computers in the clinical laboratory. One of the first applications of a digital computer in the clinical laboratory occurred in Seligson’s department at Yale, and shortly thereafter data were being transmitted directly from the laboratory computer to data stations on the patient wards. Now, such laboratory information systems represent the standard of care.

He was also among the first to highlight the clinical importance of test specificity and accuracy, as compared to simple reproducibility. One of his favorite slides was one that showed almost perfectly reproducible results for 10 successive measurements of blood sugar obtained with what was then the most widely used and popular analytical instrument. However, he would note, the answer was wrong; the assay was not accurate.

Seligson established one of the nation’s first residency programs focused on laboratory medicine or clinical pathology, and also developed a teaching curriculum in laboratory medicine for medical students. In so doing, he created a model for the modern practice of laboratory medicine in an academic environment, and his trainees spread throughout the country as leaders in the field.

Ernest Cotlove

Ernest Cotlove’s scientific and medical career started at NYU where, after finishing medicine in 1943, he pursued studies in renal physiology and chemistry. His outstanding ability to acquire knowledge and conduct innovative investigations earned him an invitation from James Shannon, then Director of the National Heart Institute at NIH. He continued studies of renal physiology and chemistry until 1953 when he became Head of Clinical Chemistry Laboratories in the new Department of Clinical Pathology being developed by George Z. Williams during the Clinical Center’s construction. Dr. Cotlove seized the opportunity to design and equip the most advanced and functional clinical chemistry facility in our country.

Dr. Cotlove’s career exemplified the progress seen in medical research and technology. He designed the electronic chloridometer that bears his name, in spite of published reports that such an approach was theoretically impossible. He used this innovative skill to develop new instruments and methods at the Clinical Center. Many recognized him as an expert in clinical chemistry, computer programming, systems design for laboratory operations, and automation of analytical instruments.

Effects of Automation on Laboratory Diagnosis

George Z. Williams

There are four primary effects of laboratory automation on the practice of medicine: The range of laboratory support is being greatly extended to both diagnosis and guidance of therapeutic management; the new feasibility of multiphasic periodic health evaluation promises effective health and manpower conservation in the future; and substantially lowered unit cost for laboratory analysis will permit more extensive use of comprehensive laboratory medicine in everyday practice. There is, however, a real and growing danger of naive acceptance of and overconfidence in the reliability and accuracy of automated analysis and computer processing without critical evaluation. Erroneous results can jeopardize the patient’s welfare. Every physician has the responsibility to obtain proof of accuracy and reliability from the laboratories which serve his patients.

. Mario Werner

Dr. Werner received his medical degree from the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 1956. After specializing in internal medicine at the University Clinic in Basel, he came to the United States–as a fellow of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences–to work at NIH and at the Rockefeller University. From 1964 to 1966, he served as chief of the Central Laboratory at the Klinikum Essen, Ruhr-University, Germany. In 1967, he returned to the US, joining the Division of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, as an assistant professor. Three years later, he became Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was instrumental in establishing the training program in laboratory medicine. In 1972, he was appointed Professor of Pathology at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Norbert Tietz

Professor Norbert W. Tietz received the degree of Doctor of Natural Sciences from the Technical University Stuttgart, Germany, in 1950. In 1954 he immigrated to the United States where he subsequently held positions or appointments at several Chicago area institutions including the Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Center, Chicago Medical School/University of Health Sciences and Rush Medical College.

Professor Tietz is best known as the editor of the Fundamentals of Clinical Chemistry. This book, now in its sixth edition, remains a primary information source for both students and educators in laboratory medicine. It was the first modem textbook that integrated clinical chemistry with the basic sciences and pathophysiology.

Throughout his career, Dr. Tietz taught a range of students from the undergraduate through post-graduate level including (1) medical technology students, (2) medical students, (3) clinical chemistry graduate students, (4) pathology residents, and (5) practicing chemists. For example, in the late 1960’s he began the first master’s of science degree program in clinical chemistry in the United States at the Chicago Medical School. This program subsequently evolved into one of the first Ph.D. programs in clinical chemistry.

Automation and other recent developments in clinical chemistry.

Griffiths J.

The decade 1980 to 1990 was the most progressive period in the short, but
turbulent, history of clinical chemistry. New techniques and the instrumentation
needed to perform assays have opened a chemical Pandora’s box. Multichannel
analyzers, the base spectrophotometric key to automated laboratories, have
become almost perfect. The extended use of the antigen-monoclonal antibody
reaction with increasing sensitive labels has extended analyte detection
routinely into the picomole/liter range. Devices that aid the automation of
serum processing and distribution of specimens are emerging. Laboratory
computerization has significantly matured, permitting better integration of
laboratory instruments, improving communication between laboratory personnel
and the patient’s physician, and facilitating the use of expert systems and
robotics in the chemistry laboratory

Automation and Expert Systems in a Core Clinical Chemistry Laboratory
Streitberg, GT, et al.  JALA 2009;14:94–105

Clinical pathology or laboratory medicine has a great
influence on clinical decisions and 60e70% of the
most important decisions on admission, discharge,
and medication are based on laboratory results.1
As we learn more about clinical laboratory results
and incorporate them in outcome optimization
schemes, the laboratory will play a more pivotal role
in management of patients and the eventual outcomes.
2 It has been stated that the development of
information technology and automation in laboratory
medicine has allowed laboratory professionals
to keep in pace with the growth in workload.

Since the reasons to automate and the impact of automation have
similarities and these include reduction in errors, increase in productivity,
and improvement in safety. Advances in technology in clinical chemistry
that have included total laboratory automation call for changes in job
responsibilities to include skills in information technology, data management,
instrumentation, patient preparation for diagnostic analysis, interpretation
of pathology results, dissemination of knowledge and information to
patients and other health staff, as well as skills in research.

The clinical laboratory has become so productive, particularly in chemistry and immunology, and the labor, instrument and reagent costs are well determined, that today a physician’s medical decisions are 80% determined by the clinical laboratory.  Medical information systems have lagged far behind.  Why is that?  Because the decision for a MIS has historical been based on billing capture.  Moreover, the historical use of chemical profiles were quite good at validating healthy dtatus in an outpatient population, but the profiles became restricted under Diagnostic Related Groups.    Thus, it came to be that the diagnostics was considered a “commodity”.  In order to be competitive, a laboratory had to provide “high complexity” tests that were drawn in by a large volume of “moderate complexity” tests.


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Risk of Bias in Translational Science

Author: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


Curator: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


Assessment of risk of bias in translational science

Andre Barkhordarian1, Peter Pellionisz2, Mona Dousti1, Vivian Lam1,Lauren Gleason1, Mahsa Dousti1, Josemar Moura3 and Francesco Chiappelli14*  

1Oral Biology & Medicine, School of Dentistry, UCLA, Evidence-Based Decisions Practice-Based Research Network, Los Angeles, USA

2Pre-medical program, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

3School of Medicine, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

4Evidence-Based Decisions Practice-Based Research Network, UCLA School of Dentistry, Los Angeles, CA

Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:184

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License


Risk of bias in translational medicine may take one of three forms:

  1. a systematic error of methodology as it pertains to measurement or sampling (e.g., selection bias),
  2. a systematic defect of design that leads to estimates of experimental and control groups, and of effect sizes that substantially deviate from true values (e.g., information bias), and
  3. a systematic distortion of the analytical process, which results in a misrepresentation of the data with consequential errors of inference (e.g., inferential bias).

Risk of bias can seriously adulterate the internal and the external validity of a clinical study, and, unless it is identified and systematically evaluated, can seriously hamper the process of comparative effectiveness and efficacy research and analysis for practice. The Cochrane Group and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality have independently developed instruments for assessing the meta-construct of risk of bias. The present article begins to discuss this dialectic.


As recently discussed in this journal [1], translational medicine is a rapidly evolving field. In its most recent conceptualization, it consists of two primary domains:

  • translational research proper and
  • translational effectiveness.

This distinction arises from a cogent articulation of the fundamental construct of translational medicine in particular, and of translational health care in general.

The Institute of Medicine’s Clinical Research Roundtable conceptualized the field as being composed by two fundamental “blocks”:

  • one translational “block” (T1) was defined as “…the transfer of new understandings of disease mechanisms gained in the laboratory into the development of new methods for diagnosis, therapy, and prevention and their first testing in humans…”, and
  • the second translational “block” (T2) was described as “…the translation of results from clinical studies into everyday clinical practice and health decision making…” [2].

These are clearly two distinct facets of one meta-construct, as outlined in Figure 1. As signaled by others, “…Referring to T1 and T2 by the same name—translational research—has become a source of some confusion. The 2 spheres are alike in name only. Their goals, settings, study designs, and investigators differ…” [3].

1479-5876-11-184-1  Fig 1. TM construct

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the meta-construct of translational health carein general, and translational medicine in particular, which consists of two fundamental constructs: the T1 “block” (as per Institute of Medicine’s Clinical Research Roundtable nomenclature), which represents the transfer of new understandings of disease mechanisms gained in the laboratory into the development of new methods for diagnosis, therapy, and prevention as well as their first testing in humans, and the T2 “block”, which pertains to translation of results from clinical studies into everyday clinical practice and health decision making [[3]]. The two “blocks” are inextricably intertwined because they jointly strive toward patient-centered research outcomes (PCOR) through the process of comparative effectiveness and efficacy research/review and analysis for clinical practice (CEERAP). The domain of each construct is distinct, since the “block” T1 is set in the context of a laboratory infrastructure within a nurturing academic institution, whereas the setting of “block” T2 is typically community-based (e.g., patient-centered medical/dental home/neighborhoods [4]; “communities of practice” [5]).

For the last five years at least, the Federal responsibilities for “block” T1 and T2 have been clearly delineated. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) predominantly concerns itself with translational research proper – the bench-to-bedside enterprise (T1); the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ) focuses on the result-translation enterprise (T2). Specifically: “…the ultimate goal [of AHRQ] is research translation—that is, making sure that findings from AHRQ research are widely disseminated and ready to be used in everyday health care decision-making…” [6]. The terminology of translational effectiveness has emerged as a means of distinguishing the T2 block from T1.

Therefore, the bench-to-bedside enterprise pertains to translational research, and the result-translation enterprise describes translational effectiveness. The meta-construct of translational health care (viz., translational medicine) thus consists of these two fundamental constructs:

  • translational research and
  • translational effectiveness,

which have distinct purposes, protocols and products, while both converging on the same goal of new and improved means of

  • individualized patient-centered diagnostic and prognostic care.

It is important to note that the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, 23 March 2010) has created an environment that facilitates the pursuit of translational health care because it emphasizes patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR). That is to say, it fosters the transaction between translational research (i.e., “block” T1)(TR) and translational effectiveness (i.e., “block” T2)(TE), and favors the establishment of communities of practice-research interaction. The latter, now recognized as practice-based research networks, incorporate three or more clinical practices in the community into

  • a community of practices network coordinated by an academic center of research.

Practice-based research networks may be a third “block” (T3)(PBTN) in translational health care and they could be conceptualized as a stepping-stone, a go-between bench-to-bedside translational research and result-translation translational effectiveness [7]. Alternatively, practice-based research networks represent the practical entities where the transaction between

  • translational research and translational effectiveness can most optimally be undertaken.

It is within the context of the practice-based research network that the process of bench-to-bedside can best seamlessly proceed, and it is within the framework of the practice-based research network that

  • the best evidence of results can be most efficiently translated into practice and
  • be utilized in evidence-based clinical decision-making, viz. translational effectiveness.

Translational effectiveness

As noted, translational effectiveness represents the translation of the best available evidence in the clinical practice to ensure its utilization in clinical decisions. Translational effectiveness fosters evidence-based revisions of clinical practice guidelines. It also encourages

  • effectiveness-focused,
  • patient-centered and
  • evidence-based clinical decision-making.

Translational effectiveness rests not only on the expertise of the clinical staff and the empowerment of patients, caregivers and stakeholders, but also, and

  • most importantly on the best available evidence [8].

The pursuit of the best available evidence is the foundation of

  • translational effectiveness and more generally of
  • translational medicine in evidence-based health care.

The best available evidence is obtained through a systematic process driven by

  • a research question/hypothesis that is articulated about clearly stated criteria that pertain to the
  • patient (P), the interventions (I) under consideration (C), for the sought clinical outcome (O), within a given timeline (T) and clinical setting (S).

PICOTS is tested on the appropriate bibliometric sample, with tools of measurements designed to establish the level (e.g., CONSORT) and the quality of the evidence. Statistical and meta-analytical inferences, often enhanced by analyses of clinical relevance [9], converge into the formulation of the consensus of the best available evidence. Its dissemination to all stakeholders is key to increase their health literacy in order to ensure their full participation

  • in the utilization of the best available evidence in clinical decisions, viz., translational effectiveness.

To be clear, translational effectiveness – and, in the perspective discussed above, translational health care – is anchored on obtaining the best available evidence,

  • which emerges from highest quality research.
  • which is obtained when errors are minimized.

In an early conceptualization [10], errors in research were presented as

  • those situations that threaten the internal and the external validity of a research study –

that is, conditions that impede either the study’s reproducibility, or its generalization. In point of fact, threats to internal and external validity [10] represent specific aspects of systematic errors (i.e., bias) in the

  • research design,
  • methodology and
  • data analysis.

Thence emerged a branch of science that seeks to

  • understand,
  • control and
  • reduce risk of bias in research.

Risk of bias and the best available evidence

It follows that the best available evidence comes from research with the fewest threats to internal and to external validity – that is to say, the fewest systematic errors: the lowest risk of bias. Quality of research, as defined in the field of research synthesis [11], has become synonymous with

  • low bias and contained risk of bias [1215].

Several years ago, the Cochrane group embarked on a new strategy for assessing the quality of research studies by examining potential sources of bias. Certain original areas of potential bias in research were identified, which pertain to

(a) the sampling and the sample allocation process, to measurement, and to other related sources of errors (reliability of testing),

(b) design issues, including blinding, selection and drop-out, and design-specific caveats, and

(c) analysis-related biases.

A Risk of Bias tool was created (Cochrane Risk of Bias), which covered six specific domains:

1. selection bias,

2. performance bias,

3. detection bias,

4. attrition bias,

5. reporting bias, and

6. other research protocol-related biases.

Assessments were made within each domain by one or more items specific for certain aspects of the domain. Each items was scored in two distinct steps:

1. the support for judgment was intended to provide a succinct free-text description of the domain being queried;

2. each item was scored high, low, or unclear risk of material bias (defined here as “…bias of sufficient magnitude to have a notable effect on the results or conclusions…” [16]).

It was advocated that assessments across items in the tool should be critically summarized for each outcome within each report. These critical summaries were to inform the investigator so that the primary meta-analysis could be performed either

  • only on studies at low risk of bias, or for
  • the studies stratified according to risk of bias [16].

This is a form of acceptable sampling analysis designed to yield increased homogeneity of meta-analytical outcomes [17]. Alternatively, the homogeneity of the meta-analysis can be further enhanced by means of the more direct quality-effects meta-analysis inferential model [18].

Clearly, one among the major drawbacks of the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool is

  • the subjective nature of its assessment protocol.

In an effort to correct for this inherent weakness of the instrument, the Cochrane group produced

  • detailed criteria for making judgments about the risk of bias from each individual item[16], and
  • that judgments be made independently by at least two people, with any discrepancies resolved by discussion [16].

This approach to increase the reliability of measurement in research synthesis protocols

  • is akin to that described by us [19,20] and by AHRQ [21].

In an effort to aid clinicians and patients in making effective health care related decisions, AHRQ developed an alternative Risk of Bias instrument for enabling systematical evaluation of evidence reporting [22]. The AHRQ Risk of Bias instrument was created to monitor four primary domains:

1. risk of bias: design, methodology, analysis scoring – low, medium, high

2. consistency: extent of similarity in effect sizes across studies within a bibliome scoring – consistent, inconsistent, unknown

3. directness: unidirectional link between the interventions of interest and the sought outcome, as opposed to multiple links in a casual chain scoring – direct, indirect

4. precision: extent of certainty for estimate of effect with respect to the outcome scoring – precise, imprecise In addition, four secondary domains were identified:

a. Dose response association: pattern of a larger effect with greater exposure (Present/Not Present/Not Applicable or Not Tested)

a. Confounders: consideration of confounding variables (Present/Absent)

a. Strength of association: likelihood that the observed effect is large enough that it cannot have occurred solely as a result of bias from potential confounding factors (Strong/Weak)

a. Publication bias

The AHRQ Risk of Bias instrument is also designed to yield an overall grade of the estimated risk of bias in quality reporting:

•Strength of Evidence Grades (scored as high – moderate – low – insufficient)

This global assessment, in addition to incorporating the assessments above, also rates:

–major benefit

–major harm

–jointly benefits and harms

–outcomes most relevant to patients, clinicians, and stakeholders

The AHRQ Risk of Bias instrument suffers from the same two major limitations as the Cochrane tool:

1. lack of formal psychometric validation as most other tools in the field [21], and

2. providing a subjective and not quantifiable assessment.

To begin the process of engaging in a systematic dialectic of the two instruments in terms of their respective construct and content validity, it is necessary

  • to validate each for reliability and validity either by means of the classic psychometric theory or generalizability (G) theory, which allows
  • the simultaneous estimation of multiple sources of measurement error variance (i.e., facets)
  • while generalizing the main findings across the different study facets.

G theory is particularly useful in clinical care analysis of this type, because it permits the assessment of the reliability of clinical assessment protocols.

  • the reliability and minimal detectable changes across varied combinations of these facets are then simply calculated [23], but
  • it is recommended that G theory determination follow classic theory psychometric assessment.

Therefore, we have commenced a process of revision the AHRQ Risk of Bias instrument by rendering questions in primary domains quantifiable (scaled 1–4),

  • which established the intra-rater reliability (r = 0.94, p < 0.05), and
  • the criterion validity (r = 0.96, p < 0.05) for this instrument (Figure 2).



Figure 2. Proportion of shared variance in criterion validity (A) and inter-rater reliability (B) in the AHRQ Risk of Bias instrument revised as described.
Two raters were trained and standardized 
[20] with the revised AHRQ Risk of Bias and with the R-Wong instrument, which has been previously validated[24]. Each rater independently produced ratings on a sample of research reports with both instruments on two separate occasions, 1–2 months apart. Pearson correlation coefficient was used to compute the respective associations. The figure shows Venn diagrams to illustrate the intersection between each two sets data used in the correlations. The overlap between the sets in each panel represents the proportion of shared variance for that correlation. The percent of unexplained variance is given in the insert of each panel.

A similar revision of the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool may also yield promising validation data. G theory validation of both tools will follow. Together, these results will enable a critical and systematic dialectical comparison of the Cochrane and the AHRQ Risk of Bias measures.


The critical evaluation of the best available evidence is critical to patient-centered care, because biased research findings are fundamentally invalid and potentially harmful to the patient. Depending upon the tool of measurement, the validity of an instrument in a study is obtained by means of criterion validity through correlation coefficients. Criterion validity refers to the extent to which one measures or predicts the value of another measure or quality based on a previously well-established criterion. There are other domains of validity such as: construct validity and content validity that are rather more descriptive than quantitative. Reliability however is used to describe the consistency of a measure, the extent to which a measurement is repeatable. It is commonly assessed quantitatively by correlation coefficients. Inter-rater reliability is rendered as a Pearson correlation coefficient between two independent readers, and establishes equivalence of ratings produced by independent observers or readers. Intra-rater reliability is determined by repeated measurement performed by the same subject (rater/reader) at two different points in time to assess the correlation or strength of association of the two sets of scores.

To establish the reliability of research quality assessment tools it is necessary, as we previously noted [20]:

•a) to train multiple readers in sharing a common view for the cognitive interpretation of each item. Readers must possess declarative knowledge a factual form of information known to be static in nature a certain depth of knowledge and understanding of the facts about which they are reviewing the literature. They must also have procedural knowledge known as imperative knowledge that can be directly applied to a task in this case a clear understanding of the fundamental concepts of research methodology, design, analysis and inference.

•b) to train the readers to read and evaluate the quality of a set of papers independently and blindly. They must also be trained to self-monitor and self-assess their skills for the purpose of insuring quality control.

•c) to refine the process until the inter-rater correlation coefficient and Cohen coefficient of agreement are about 0.9 (over 81% shared variance). This will establishes that the degree of attained agreement among well-trained readers is beyond chance.

•d) to obtain independent and blind reading assessments from readers on reports under study.

•e) to compute means and standard deviation of scores for each question across the reports, repeat process if the coefficient of variations are greater than 5% (i.e., less than 5% error among the readers across each questions).

The quantification provided by instruments validated in such a manner to assess the quality and the relative lack of bias in the research evidence allows for the analysis of the scores by means of the acceptable sampling protocol. Acceptance sampling is a statistical procedure that uses statistical sampling to determine whether a given lot, in this case evidence gathered from an identified set of published reports, should be accepted or rejected [12,25]. Acceptable sampling of the best available evidence can be obtained by:

•convention: accept the top 10 percentile of papers based on the score of the quality of the evidence (e.g., low Risk of Bias);

•confidence interval (CI95): accept the papers whose scores fall at of beyond the upper confidence limit at 95%, obtained with mean and variance of the scores of the entire bibliome;

•statistical analysis: accept the papers that sustain sequential repeated Friedman analysis.

To be clear, the Friedman test is a non-parametric equivalent of the analysis of variance for factorial designs. The process requires the 4-E process outlined below:

•establishing a significant Friedman outcome, which indicates significant differences in scores among the individual reports being tested for quality;

•examining marginal means and standard deviations to identify inconsistencies, and to identify the uniformly strong reports across all the domains tested by the quality instrument

•excluding those reports that show quality weakness or bias

•executing the Friedman analysis again, and repeating the 4-E process as many times as necessary, in a statistical process akin to hierarchical regression, to eliminate the evidence reports that exhibit egregious weakness, based on the analysis of the marginal values, and to retain only the group of report that harbor homogeneously strong evidence.

Taken together, and considering the domain and the structure of both tools, expectations are that these analyses will confirm that these instruments are two related entities, each measuring distinct aspects of bias. We anticipate that future research will establish that both tools assess complementary sub-constructs of one and the same archetype meta-construct of research quality.


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