This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: December 9, 2004

Paul J. Kostyniak is professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and chair of the Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

What exactly are biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences?
The Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences encompasses the B.S. degree programs in biotechnology (BTE), medical technology (MT) and nuclear medicine technology (NMT), and an M.S. program in biotechnology.

The Web site states that the department's mission is to prepare students for "lifelong participation in health care delivery and the biotechnology industry." Can you expand on that?
The overarching philosophy of the faculty has been and continues to be that students should be prepared with both a sound theoretical and applied education in the programs. A thorough, theoretical understanding of basic and clinical sciences not only allows graduates to be well-qualified practitioners, but also to become leaders in health-care delivery and the biotechnology arena. Affiliations with the preeminent regional health-care institutions provide students with clinical rotation experiences where state-of-the-art practice skills can be acquired and perfected. The expertise of UB's basic science and clinical faculty afford students with the knowledge, skills and professional attributes to make lifelong contributions to the delivery and improvement of health care regionally and nationally.

What careers does this program prepare students for?
The undergraduate degree programs in medical technology and nuclear medicine technology are nationally accredited, which allow graduates to take national certification and licensure exams and to practice in hospital laboratories. Graduates of all programs—MT, NMT, undergrad and grad BTE—also can work in private, public health, and commercial and biomedical research laboratories. Other opportunities exist in industrial research and development laboratories and in sales and service divisions of instrument and reagent manufacturers and suppliers. These programs also can be used as a scientific base for students wishing to pursue graduate programs in science education or those interested in entering advanced graduate or professional degree programs.

What's the difference between medical technology and biotechnology?
Medical technology, also known as clinical laboratory science, deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The curriculum is very laboratory- and hands-on oriented, with all general areas of the clinical laboratory included. Nuclear medicine technology is concerned with the use of radioactive materials for diagnostic, therapeutic and research purposes. The highly structured curricula of MT and NMT programs are required by national accreditation guidelines. UB's MT and NMT are the only nationally accredited programs in the greater Buffalo region. Biotechnology involves biological techniques developed through basic research now applied to research and product development and is appropriate for students interested in the emerging areas associated with molecular biology. The curriculum is flexible, with emphases in forensics, pre-professional and research options.

The department for many years was part of the School of Health Related Professions—now called the School of Public Health and Health Professions. It's now part of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Why the move?
The department's Medical Technology program was first established in 1939 in the then-College of Arts and Sciences, and has been in continuous operation to the present. The department was one of the original units that formed the School of Health Related Professions. As the department broadened into nuclear medicine technology and biotechnology, the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences was viewed as the ideal location in the university for students to be trained in state-of-the-art techniques and theories that are required for a position in a competitive biotechnology company or hospital laboratory. The research-intensive school, which is a center for medical professional education and training, also complements department faculty research interests, and the move already has resulted in a number of collaborative research grants and projects. Collaboration between BCLS and other SMBS faculty has resulted in the development of a medical procedures course for second-year medical students focused on both the anatomical and laboratory-medicine aspects of specimen collection and utilization of laboratory tests results. We are the only medical school in the country with this type of program. The combined efforts of faculty in the departments of BCLS, Emergency Medicine and Family Medicine are responsible for this innovative program.

How has the field changed since the department was founded more than 35 years ago?
Many changes in clinical laboratory medicine have occurred over the past three or four decades and the process of change is continuous in translating new basic science knowledge into more effective diagnostic and prognostic testing methodologies and protocols. Forty years ago, many blood and body-fluid diagnostic tests were performed manually by technologists in the laboratory. Patient information was generated, communicated, stored and retrieved without aid of computers. Now, computers and microprocessors have automated much of laboratory equipment, analysis and information technology. Advances in analytical equipment now allow a single, clinical chemistry analyzer to perform as many as 30 different tests on a patient specimen. Thirty-five years ago, many dedicated analyzers and/or manual methods, requiring many technologists, would have been required to perform the same analyses that now are possible using a single analyzer and technologist.

Many advances in basic science, engineering and computer science in the past 35 years now routinely permit the determination of an array of tumor markers in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers (for example, prostate-specific antigen), DNA probes and molecular techniques for the diagnosis of infectious diseases and genetically inherited conditions (such as Fragile X Chromosome syndrome), flow cytometry for identification and quantifying unique cell types in blood (for example, B, T and natural killer lymphocytes) and routine monitoring of many therapeutic drugs (such as digoxin), to cite a few areas of change. A recent interpretive guide to clinical laboratory tests lists more than 2,000 different tests performed by clinical laboratory scientists.

The congressional Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA) of 1988 has fundamentally changed the practice of clinical laboratory medicine. CLIA regulations for the first time incorporated into law performance standards—accuracy and precision—for the practice of clinical specimen testing. Laboratories must meet or exceed these quality standards in laboratory testing to be eligible for reimbursement from federal sources. As a result of the CLIA regulations, laboratories constantly are striving to improve the quality of laboratory operations. All of these factors have resulted in improved quality of patient care in the U.S. health care system.

Describe some of the research being conducted by faculty members in the department.
Faculty members are conducting research in a variety of areas, among them the development, validation and application of both novel and existing laboratory techniques for the measurement of biomarkers of oxidative stress and antioxidant defense (Richard Browne); social and educational research and outreach regarding organ donation (Judith Tamburlin); anti-carbohydrate immune response as it applies to cancer and microbiological vaccine development (Kate Rittenhouse-Olson); the terminal differentiation of erythroid cells using a combination of cell biology and molecular biology techniques (Stephen Koury), and stem cell differentiation and stromal regulation (Patricia Masso-Welch). The department also houses the Analytical Toxicology Laboratory and the Atlantic OSHA Training Center, which I oversee. The laboratory, which has extensive experience in assessing biomarkers of environmental exposure in human and animal studies, is one of only three in the country performing congener specific PCB and pesticide analysis at ppt levels in human serum and milk samples. The Atlantic OSHA Training Center provides OSHA-approved hazardous-materials training for workers throughout New York State and the Northeast. The center has invested more than $100,000 in training equipment that is used in hands-on exercises that constitute upwards of half of the curriculum for most courses.

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
What do you see in the future for the department? Degrees in technical fields will continue to be sought after. The field of biotechnology in particular is growing exponentially. There will continue to be a growing demand for well-trained technical personnel with hands-on experience in the laboratory. This need has been foreseen by the department, and currently is being fulfilled with our graduates. As the regional goals in the bioinformatics/biotechnology arena are achieved and new spin-off businesses are born, we are confident that we can supply well-trained technical staff to help fuel that engine of regional growth.