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Though it may go unnoticed by the general public, laboratory work - whether clinical biology or pathological anatomy - plays a key role in the treatment of patients. For many years, the IRIS Network has systematically introduced the latest advances in this field.

Today, laboratory analyses have become increasingly automated, resulting in a substantial improvement in their quality and productivity. Once they reach the laboratory, sample tubes enter an automated handling system, where they are sorted and the required samples are prepared for the different work stations. Automation is also gaining ground in sectors where human intervention still remains very important, such as microscopic analysis (particularly in microbiology). Some systems now allow for “pre-triage” of images, obtained by microscope. This makes microscopy work less tedious than in the past and allows technicians, pharmacists and biologists to devote more time to complex cases, where their role remains vital. The main advantage of such automation is that it provides shorter response times, faster diagnosis and therefore improved patient care.

Another major trend in laboratory analysis is in the use of molecular biology techniques. Once the preserve of geneticists, genomic and proteomic analysis techniques now form an integral part of iris Network laboratories. Molecular analysis in particular plays a key role in the field of microbiology, ie in the study of infectious agents: germs can be analysed in accordance with their particular genomes or their protein composition, making it possible to detect and identify them in a matter of hours.

In the near future, the use of molecular biology should also make it possible to administer to each patient the most appropriate treatment for them, based on their genetic characteristics and those of the disease affecting them. The study of "à la carte" genome-based treatments, also known as pharmacogenomics or pharmacogenetics, also confirms the growing importance of laboratories in the medicine of today.
The perfecting of such techniques has led increasingly to laboratories forming “technical platforms”, where activities can be grouped together in line with analytical techniques, rather than according to sector.

Centralisation for better quality and improved efficiency

The iris Network currently includes several laboratories, distributed among the various hospital sites in the Brussels-Capital area. These carry out more than 15 million analyses per year of 2,300 different types. After an initial grouping of specialist analyses (immunology and hormonology) at the Brugmann Hospital and at the Saint-Pierre Hospital (microbiology) in the 1990s, the iris Network has continued with its consolidation policy. In 2002, the Iris South Hospitals merged their three laboratories to create a central technical platform and two emergency centres. And in 2002, the Brugmann Hospital did the same at its Horta and Brien sites. In 2005, the Bordet Institute and the Saint-Pierre Hospital also decided to combine their laboratories. Then, the Network is creating a central platform to cover all the molecular biology needs of its hospitals and those of external consultants. Today, Brugmann, Saint-Pierre, QFCUH and Bordet are creating their own combined multisite laboratory - iris-Lab - which, by 2014, will bring together most activities on a single site, equipped with automated lines and the very latest technology.

While many logistical challenges remain (distance between clinicians and biologists, transport of sample tubes, etc), this centralisation should confirm the central role of the IRIS Network in laboratory analysis, both inside and outside the Network, and lead to the creation of one of Belgium’s largest laboratories.These new developments will enable us to improve our quality policy still further in line with accreditation standard ISO 15189.


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