As more clinical labs are looking into mass spectrometry, Deborah French, PhD, DABCC, assistant director of chemistry at the University of California San Francisco Clinical Laboratories, shared her insights on implementing this powerful technology. In the first of a two-part interview, French describes the level of expertise needed to bring online and operate a mass spectrometry system, and she explains how she justified a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) purchase. French’s Q&A appeared in CLN’s new quarterly section, Focus on Mass Spectrometry, sponsored by Waters Corporation.

“I had been working with LC-MS/MS for approximately 2 years and had developed an assay for 25-hydroxyvitamin D and another for opioid and opiate analysis. In our section, we have a senior supervisor, a supervisor, two specialists, and the medical technologists. To date, we have trained the supervisor, two specialists, and one medical technologist to run the LC-MS/MS system—it is not a bench that everyone rotates on like the other benches,” French told CLN. “During training, I explained the components of the system and how they function, the maintenance schedule, and some of the unique qualities of this technology.”

French’s laboratory took on LC-MS/MS primarily for two reasons: “to improve turnaround time and to save money, as we were sending a large number of samples to reference laboratories,” said French. She found, however, that the process was not without difficulties. “The most challenging part of preparing a return on investment (ROI) calculation was determining everything that was required to set up the lab,” explained French.

For example, many factors that should be included in the ROI were not obvious, such as electrical work, ducts for proper venting, and reconfiguring existing cabinets, French elaborated. “The most helpful resources in this situation were the vendors’ site planning guides. Talking to the service engineers who actually install the instruments was also invaluable,” she said. “I would caution others not to overlook the service contract charge covering both the LC and the MS in the cost calculations, as it is significant.”

Pick up the February issue of CLN to read more of French’s Q&A.