How the Alinity m reduced lab pressure at the heart of Victoria’s pandemic response
The Molecular Diagnostic team at Austin Pathology will always be able to wear their brave response to COVID-19 as a badge of honour.
The first months of the pandemic were incredibly challenging for the lab, which is in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
“Before COVID, we were working well. Then all of a sudden it was 100 extra tests a day, then 200, then 300,” says Senior Scientist and Laboratory Manager Dr Suzanne Svobodova.
“We extended the hours of the lab, we employed more staff, but we were still limited by the equipment we had. It was just a nightmare juggling it all.”
It’s been a sharp learning curve, but the lab has a smooth operating rhythm again, thanks to Austin Health’s purchase of an Abbott Alinity m automated molecular diagnostics analyser.
Dr Svobodova had long coveted the instrument, but the pandemic brought the purchase forward. It has been a game-changer for the lab since day one, even when it was running at 75% of capacity during the first month.
The Alinity m COVID-19 assay is formally called Alinity m SARS-CoV-2. Dr Svobodova is using the Alinity m exclusively for COVID-19 tests, which means all other work has reverted to the pre-pandemic routine.
Dr Svobodova sees three main advantages of the instrument:
- Built-in redundancy. If one module breaks down, you can still run the system using the other three. “Other instruments are out of action if something goes wrong."
- Continuous loading. “This significantly improves assay turnaround time, and we can mix and match to accommodate our priority samples.”
- Ease of use and ease of training. “With a lot of instruments, we have needed a variety of lab instructions to remind staff what to do. I haven’t had to create any extra lab test methods or documentation. You train someone up, and that’s all you need.
They will remember how to do things because it is so simple.”
The Alinity m has capacity for 20 onboard assays and allows labs to consolidate 60% of routine PCR testing on one instrument1.
When the pandemic is over, Dr Svobodova is likely to use it for tests including Hepatitis B and C, STI and HPV.
“We will have plenty of use for it after the pandemic. It will definitely make our lab more efficient, but I suspect we will be testing COVID for a while yet.
“One advantage is that it has much easier workflows and we will not need to load samples in batches. For instance, we run hepatitis B twice a week at the moment and hepatitis C once a week. We won’t have to do that anymore, which means the doctor will get their results much quicker.”
1Alinity m System Operations Manual (54-605001/R5)