Science enables people to understand the natural processes of the world — from geology to the atmosphere, from the planet’s flora, fauna and far beyond. Obtaining knowledge of the human body, for instance, can provide a significantly positive impact on how quality health care can be administered to patients. Those who pursue a career in medical laboratory science can seek to play a vital role in delivering such care. The pivotal advances that stem from the field of medical laboratory science since its origin have revolutionized the concept of reactive and proactive health in society.
The Benefits of Medical Science
Breakthroughs in medical science have continually provided groundbreaking moments in the delivery of health care. Procedures and strategies that were not possible a century ago have now become routine, such as X-rays, chemotherapy, vitamin supplements and antibiotics. These and other advances help physicians devise pinpoint strategies that can lead to healthier patients. There is little doubt that medical lab science is key to developing and administering these beneficial discoveries.
Advances in medical lab technology make it possible to examine the human body in a way that provides answers to issues on a molecular level. Equipment, ranging from microscopes to complex radioimmunoassay setups, enables scientists to thoroughly analyze and interpret data from blood, tissue and other biological materials. This data can hold vital clues to a patient’s short- and long-term health, and can provide the backbone to strategies that cannot only improve patient outcomes, but also encourage and empower patients to be proactive in their health.
Health Care Before Medical Laboratory Science
Prior to the advent of medical laboratory science, physicians largely had to rely on their own observations to detect issues in the human body. In some cases, “treatment” may have included practices that were driven by religious belief or superstition. With discoveries and milestones backed by laboratory science and research — such as uncovering the body’s circulatory system and the invention of the microscope — patient treatment entered a new era. These innovations not only led to a greater understanding of the human body, but to vast improvements in several aspects of health care as well.
From discovering ways to neutralize formerly fatal diseases to creating proactive health care strategies that can minimize certain debilitating conditions, some of the most paradigm-shifting discoveries in the health care field occurred in a medical lab setting.
For example, Sir Alexander Fleming, while working on a treatment for the influenza virus, accidentally discovered penicillin, one of the 20th century’s most crucial medicines. The discovery of human blood types in 1900 revolutionized the treatment of illnesses and conditions pertaining to excessive bleeding.
Breakthroughs in the medical laboratory aren’t exclusively associated with scientific discoveries. The invention and proliferation of lab technologies have allowed health care to improve substantially. Some of these breakthroughs, such as the invention of disposable hypodermic needles in 1961, seem basic by modern standards. Others, like the methodology used to identify triglycerides or determine one’s DNA, are still regarded by many as impressively complex.
The innovative nature of medical laboratory science has yielded a wide range of important discoveries that have touched various fields in the health care industry. When viewed collectively, they are a strong testament to how much medical laboratory science drives the evolution of health care. Since medical laboratory science is a field of discovery, the discipline also highlights the potential future of unique health care innovations.
Clinical Biochemistry Breakthroughs
Clinical chemists analyze blood, urine and tissue samples. While their analysis is a vital component of diagnosing and managing patient diseases, their work has also led to several key discoveries that have profoundly impacted health care. Many of these clinical biochemical advancements involve metabolic processes, or learning how the body functions on a molecular level. This knowledge has led to uncovering the causes of several potentially deadly conditions such as heart disease and cancer. In the big picture, this work has enabled health care to take a proactive approach to detecting and addressing issues before they become life threatening.
Key Microbiology Discoveries
Microbiologists study various bacterial, parasitic, fungal and viral organisms to determine the roots of various infections. Their work makes it possible for health care practitioners to understand the cause of illnesses and lessen their effect, if not eradicate them outright. Some of the work of microbiologists has led to the practical elimination of several life-ending or life-altering pathogens, including smallpox and polio. Microbiology has also laid the foundation for concepts that have had profound impact beyond health care, such as the concept of pasteurization.
Advances in Hematology
Medical laboratory scientists in the hematology field focus their efforts on research related to blood. Their deep understanding of the innate properties of bodily fluids has led to the creation of life-saving treatments such as transfusions. Their work with white blood cells has positively impacted the treatment of certain blood-related diseases like leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma, the latter of which has been cured.
Successes in Genetics
Geneticists are the code-breakers of the human body’s genetic map. Their numerous breakthroughs in analyzing and manipulating genes continue to have potentially paradigm-shifting effects on health care options. In 2017 alone, genetic modification has led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve some remarkable treatment strategies for leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and congenital blindness. In that same year, geneticists edited a patient’s DNA without removing it from the body, a procedure that could allow for gene deficiencies to be corrected as they are discovered.
Making the Impossible Possible
The work of medical laboratory scientists can turn mysteries into common knowledge and challenges into triumphs. Their discoveries ultimately lead to a more complete knowledge of how the human body acts and reacts. In turn, this understanding can enable health care workers to create proactive, innovative and sometimes game-changing health care strategies to help improve patient outcomes, save lives, and contribute to society’s well-being.
The University of Cincinnati’s online Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science program is designed for medical laboratory technicians who are currently working in the field. Our online MLS program combines the quality and high standards of UC’s campus-based program with the flexibility and convenience of state-of-the-art distance learning. It is a smart choice for busy professionals who want to advance their education while also continuing to meet personal and professional responsibilities.
American Clinical Laboratory Association, “Importance of Clinical Lab Testing Highlighted During Medical Lab Professionals Week”
American Society of Hematology, “50 Years in Hematology”
ASCLS, “A Brief History of Medical Diagnosis and the Birth of the Clinical Laboratory”
Gizmodo, “The Most Life-Changing Breakthroughs in Genetics of 2017”
National Health Service Health Careers, Clinical Biochemistry
National Health Service Health Careers, Microbiology (healthcare scientist)
University of Cincinnati, Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science