More than 10 billion lab tests are performed every year by more than 300,000 medical laboratory professionals across the United States. At Penn Medicine, close to 1,200 faculty and staff in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine work around the clock to perform critical patient care functions such as running blood banks and conducting tests that provide essential data to make diagnoses of all kinds and keep patients safe throughout their hospital stays.
Laboratory professionals are among the unsung heroes of patient care as the team behind the scenes who "get results" or prepare lifesaving therapeutic products, ranging from donated immune cells for infusing into cancer patients undergoing bone marrow transplants to blood for resuscitating patients who've had traumatic accidents.
Increasingly, technology allows patients a glimpse of this important work, by delivering real-time results that help physicians select and manage therapies. But much of this work still remains out of sight from hospital wards and outpatient clinics. Most patients and caregivers will never meet these lab professionals in person, although many decisions for primary and specialized care depend on the expertise and advice from clinical labs in some way.
In fact, laboratory test results typically constitute 70 percent of a patient's medical record. And this work is a cornerstone of health care at every level, across the nation - from small physician practices in rural towns who must send specimens to other facilities to be analyzed, to metropolitan hospitals and large academic medical centers where these operations are conducted in-house 24/7.
At Penn Medicine, lab staff are on the leading edge of some of the world's most promising initiatives in experimental biotherapeutics that involve the infusion of cells, proteins, and genes -- including recent milestones in cancer immunotherapy that involve engineering leukemia patients' own genes to attack their tumors, research on a personalized ovarian cancer vaccine made of patients' own tumor tissue, and even vaccines aimed at treating HIV. Most recently, the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Abramson Cancer launched the Center for Personalized Diagnostics, where five staff members, with training in genomics and bioinformatics, conduct next generation DNA sequencing on cancer patients' tumors and blood to refine their diagnoses and map out tailored treatments that provide the greatest chance of a cure.
To show its gratitude to all laboratory professionals, the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine celebrated Medical Laboratory Professionals Week April 22-26, with a host of activities, such as Phillies Night, in appreciation of all the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of staff and faculty members working in more than 30 different laboratories across the Penn campus.