Thursday, July 17, 2008

My new home away from home.

I have worked at Saint Luke's Hospital on the Plaza as a Clinical Lab Scientist for almost five years now. I started out working the graveyard shift (11pm-9am) as a lab generalist, but that lasted all of three months, and I then I moved to working the evening shift (1pm-11:30pm) as a generalist in the STAT lab (doing all testing for the ER) which lasted about a year, and then I was hired into the Flow Cytometry department (if you're interested in what Flow really is, go to this Wikipedia page) on the evening shift where I am currently working doing leukemia and lymphoma testing, HIV testing, stem cell testing for bone marrow transplants, and clinical trial testing for companies like Quintiles and Pfizer.

On Tuesday of this week we moved into a brand new laboratory! This is a really huge deal because a new lab has been talked about since the beginning of time, and our department is the only department to get new space built (there is a lot more politcal office b.s./drama that I am not telling here, I am just happy I was in the department that gets the new stuff).

Here is our new space:

I'm too embarrased to show you our old space because 1) it is less than half the size of this area, and 2) it looks like it was built in the 60's (because it really was, and it has never been updated or thoroughly cleaned). You can see my co-worker (Shanon) hard at work figuring out some crazy disease at one of our two instrument work stations.

Here is a close up of our main instrument that we use for testing (the Flow Cytometer):

We have two of these and they cost about $800,000 each (not to mention all the reagents that we use, some of which cost $1000 per bottle), but somehow we still manage to be the one of the departments that makes the most money for the lab.

The guts of the Flow Cytometer:

This instrument actually uses two lasers (encased in the black shroud at the top of the instrument) and 11 fluorescence detectors (the black circular things in the middle of the instrument) to analyze cells in a processed sample and determine all of it's different characteristics (size, shape, granularity, surface proteins, etc.) so that we can then categorize what type of cells are in the sample and what disease (or not) a person has.

The most important piece of the instrument- the Flow Cell:

The cells are pushed into the Flow Cell with pressurized fluid, in single-file, through the needle-like object and pass through the red and blue lasers (coming from the left of the flow cell) to be analyzed. This contraption is actually filled with fluid and if any air gets in there, the cells no longer pass through the lasers in a straight, single-form line, and our data gets messed up.

Here's what the data looks like after a sample runs through the instrument (each dot on the screen represents one cell):

I take this data and interpret the information and tell the pathologist if a patient has disease or not, and if so, what type of disease they have (acute lymphocytic leukemia, non-hodgkin's lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, plasma cell leukemia, hairy cell leukemia, etc.)

This is where I prepare all of my samples to be run on the Flow Cytometer:

The types of samples I work with are blood, bone marrow, and tissue (lymph nodes, skin, stomach, etc.).

Our view from one of three giant windows in our new space overlooking Mill Creek Park near the Plaza:

Most people reading this blog post work in cubicles, so I thought it would be interesting to share what it's like not to work in a cube. I hope you enjoyed the tour!


  1. Wow honey, nice write-up! I know a lot more about what you do than before I read this ... very interesting. I think that if I wrote a blog about what I do it would not be as cool. :(

    I have one question about the flow cell. In the picture the base looks bent, is that just foam or something?

  2. Beats my office. A family friend is rebounding from multiple myeloma - went through the hole stem cell harvesting-transplant thing. Interesting to see some of the behind the scenes stuff.

  3. Brian- if you look at the picture right above the close-up of the flow cell you will see that below it is the compartment that holds the specimens. The "bent" thing you are seeing is just a piece of flexible rubber that blocks dust from getting up into the flow cell/laser area. How observant of you.

    Stooks- Multiple Myeloma is a crappy disease. A lot of times I can actually tell when somebody has MM just by looking at their bone marrow (before I even put it on the instrument).

  4. Is that the new BD FACSCanto II? Man, those things are badass! I heard they have an acquisition speed of 10,000 events/sec with no scatter compromise and the lowest sample carryover ever at <0.1%. Those are some impressive numbers.

    Seriously, though. Awesome post. It really WAS cool to see what non-cubicle work looks like.

    I've always wondered: Do you have a lab coat that says, "Courtney Anderson" with a bunch of acronyms after it? That'd be pretty sweet.

  5. Clinical lab stuff on a blog, how cool is that?!
    Your entry was picked up by my Google Alert for all things laboratory. Love the pix and great window :-)

  6. OH! I almost forgot - congrats on you new lab!

  7. Wow - this is really fascinating - all those cool toys and you get to help mankind! Thanks for posting the pics!!

  8. I was reading up on flow cytometry and came with your blog. It is very iteresting, I learned from your wonderful office pictures and information on flow cytometry. Thank you!