The remarkable new medical discoveries made by clinical laboratorians are on display throughout the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting. During Sunday’s opening plenary session, attendees recognized award recipients for their efforts advancing laboratory medicine and patient care. Early career laboratorians are specifically honored by two awards: The Outstanding Scientific Achievements by a Young Investigator and the AACC Academy George Grannis Award for Excellence in Research and Scientific Publication. These were bestowed on Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, PhD, and Gabrielle Winston-McPherson, PhD, respectively, both who’ve inspired colleagues with novel and meaningful work.
If you’re a fan of science fiction programs like Star Trek, it may not seem fantastical to have a point-of-care device that detects cancer almost instantaneously. This is exactly what Eberlin has pioneered—a handheld mass spectrometry instrument called the MasSpec Pen that can identify cancer tissue in 10 seconds. The MasSpec Pen is touched to tissue in the operating room at ambient temperature where it releases a tiny droplet of water. The water is sucked back into the pen and the resulting mass spectra is instantly analyzed.
Eberlin has tested the MasSpec Pen in several studies, including one where almost two hundred ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneum tissue samples were evaluated. The MasSpec Pen performance was very promising with high sensitivity and specificity for discriminating cancer from normal tissue. Eberlin said that she has always loved mass spectrometry, and “when I realized the potential impact that this technology could have in the clinic, I became so passionate about it that I couldn’t leave the field.”
The AACC Academy promotes scientific achievements that drive innovation and advance laboratory medicine overall. Winston-McPherson has been involved with several projects related to transgender health. Determining laboratory test reference intervals is challenging, and transgender appropriate reference intervals have not been established. The lack of suitable reference intervals in the medical literature for transgender patients creates a major complication for providers, particularly when considering tests with sex-specific reference intervals such as lipids, hemoglobin, liver enzymes, and hormones.
One area that Winston-McPherson investigated is how the vaginal microbiome is changed in transgender men who use testosterone hormone therapy. Winston-McPherson found that the vaginal flora of transgender men is different than cisgender women. From this and other work, Winston-McPherson hopes “to provide laboratorians and clinicians the information that they need to better understand what laboratory values are expected for their transgender patients who are stable on hormone therapy.”
The AACC has a long tradition of strong support for young scientists, and these awards provide an excellent public forum to promote members deserving recognition. The work of accomplished scientists like Eberlin and Winston-McPherson demonstrates that the future of laboratory medicine is bright and will continue to be filled with astonishing new developments.