UHN is the first clinical lab in the world to offer a mass spectrometry-based plasma catecholamine test

On July 1, after months of optimization and validation experiments, the mass spectrometry section within the Core Lab went live with reporting plasma catecholamines by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. No other clinical diagnostic lab in the world offers this test using this methodology. Most other reference laboratories in North America, Europe and Australia all use High performance liquid chromatography-based methods – which suffers from interference with unknown compounds.

Championed by Dr. Andrea Bozovic, mass spectrometry specialist, the new method will report dopamine, in addition to epinephrine and norepinephrine and will result in reduced turnaround time.  The advantage of using mass spectrometry over the classical electrochemical detector that other clinical labs use is the fact that the team is monitoring two separate fragments of the catecholamine ion to determine the concentration, which makes this technique highly specific.

“This was a challenging project, so having this test successfully implemented feels like a great accomplishment both personally and professionally,” says Andrea.

This achievement highlights the amazing capability of this lab to develop novel assays of clinical grade.

“I am most grateful for being able to provide better clinical lab data with our new test,” says Andrea. “ I am so proud of my team of Medical Laboratory Technologists: Laura Schurman, Bianca Wan, and Alison Ngo—who are always ready to undertake new challenges, learn new skills and to quickly adapt to new priorities.”

A doctor may choose to test catecholamine levels if they suspect a patient may have a rare tumor that’s affecting their hormone levels. If these levels are high, the patient could also have other symptoms, like anxiety, high blood pressure or heart palpitations. These rare tumors can be formed within the adrenal gland (pheochromocytoma) or on the outside of the adrenal gland (paraganglioma). Elevated plasma levels of one or more of the catecholamines may also be observed in patients with neuroblastoma tumors, which are cancers that begin in nerve cells.

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