The 2014 American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s (AACC) annual meeting in Chicago was packed with new information for clinicians and physicians alike. Stretched out over five days at the end of July, the sessions ranged from in-depth short courses offered by experts in the field to fascinating lectures on the future of healthcare. Here’s a look at some highlights from the meeting.

Making Data More Actionable

FICO can now use third-party data to predict whether or not you’ll take your meds, observed the co-author of “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think,” in a plenary session. In this new era of big data, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger said that correlations like this will supply many useful insights and we should act on them, even if we don’t fully understand the underlying causes of these correlations.

“We should go for causality if we can get it, but don’t put it on a pedestal as the be-all and end-all,” he said.

The trend toward increased real-time data monitoring can help prevent overtreatment or undertreatment, a common problem in healthcare that lacks personalized treatment or therapies for the patient.

In another plenary session on newborn screening, the Mayo Clinic’s Piero Rinaldo, M.D. asserted that big data can help prevent false positives, which are a common healthcare problem. Dr. Rinaldo recently pioneered a collaborative project in which 200 screening labs spanning 60 countries have pooled together their 16,000 true-positive cases. Doctors can now use this database to test their patients’ results. The effort also standardizes guidelines with which to interpret the data.

But what about “small data” — the results of individual clinical lab tests being analyzed every day? The quality of many such tests has improved but clinical labs need to improve the interpretative comments from laboratorians that give meaning to test results, panelists said in a short course organized by the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) Quality Assurance Program (QAP).

“If we don’t interpret test results right, then the effect of testing won’t be correct,” said Dr. Samuel Vasikaran, head of the clinical biochemistry department of the Royal Perth Hospital, noting that meaningful interpretive comments will improve test use and patient outcome.

A useful comment could involve formulating possible clinical implications or noting the degree or severity of an abnormality. An example of an unhelpful comment might be suggesting a clinically obvious intervention. Ideally, comments should be tailored to the patient in the context of his or her clinical condition. Fortunately, the RCPA QAP developed an objective assessment tool to help clinical lab workers measure the quality of their interpretive comments.

A New Way to Measure Reproductive Potential

There may be a new fertility biomarker on the horizon, according to a short course on the subject. Determining a woman’s reproductive potential relies on accurately knowing her “ovarian reserve,” said Joely A. Straseski, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

This reserve is defined by the quality and size of the follicle pool in a woman’s ovaries. The more follicles, she said, the greater a woman’s chance for fertilization and pregnancy.

The Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) is an “excellent marker” of that reserve, according to Geralyn Lambert-Messerlian, Ph.D., a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Brown University. She said early study results show that the hormone’s concentrations “correlate well with the gold standard of ovarian function.”

Novel Clinical Tests Boost Lab Productivity

Nearly 200 exhibitors at AACC showcased new reagents, gear and systems. Although thousands of products were on display, we focused on a couple that impressed.

MedMira has created new tests that can simultaneously detect HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C – all in less than two minutes (view a video demo). Compare that with lateral flow tests that take a half-hour or more and analyze only one condition at a time. MedMira’s Multiplo tests are expected to launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2015.

Biomérieux recently received a CE mark for its new line of automated blood culture microbial detection systems. BioMérieux is the first company to offer “set and forget” loading: just load bottles on the conveyor belt, and the system takes care of the rest. It automatically detects and discards negatives and collects the positives into a holding bin (view a video demo).

Editor’s note: Credit goes to the staff at Clinical Laboratory News and their conference newspaper, the CLN Daily, as major news source for this post.