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Clinical Immunology Technologist


Description

The human immune system tries hard to protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other disease-like substances, such as the flu, meningitis and AIDS. However, due to a number of factors, humans are not always resistant to specific micro-organisms that cause disease and infection. Clinical immunology technologists study the processes and substances associated with the resistance of humans and animals to infections and diseases. They study immune reactions in humans and animals and try and figure out ways to boost the immune system to fight against harmful micro-organisms.

Immunology is the study of our protection from foreign molecules or invading organisms and our responses to them. These invaders include viruses, bacteria, protozoa or even larger parasites. In addition, we develop immune responses against our own proteins in autoimmunity.

Humans have two lines of defence against foreign organisms: outer barrier tissues and the inner adaptive immune system. The barrier tissues, such as the skin, stop the organism from entering our bodies. However, if these barrier layers are penetrated, through a bite, for example, the body contains cells that respond rapidly to the presence of the invader. The adaptive immune system may take days to respond to a primary invasion. The body produces antibodies (proteins that bind to foreign antigens) in which specific cells recognize foreign pathogens and destroy them. If neither of these immune defence mechanisms function properly in the human or animal, then alternative remediation approaches must be taken. Usually this is in the form of antibiotics or another form of sophisticated, strong medical treatment.

Clinical immunology technologists work under the supervision of immunologists and physicians in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infections in humans by investigating how organisms cause disease and their role in attacking the immune system. Work in this field is often interdisciplinary, so they may work closely with chemists, biochemists, geneticists, genetic engineers, pathologists and other physicians, environmentalists, civil engineers, veterinarians and geologists.

Clinical immunology technologists use a variety of specialized equipment such as gas chromatographs and high pressure liquid chromatographs, electrophoresis units, thermocyclers, fluorescence activated cell sorters and phosphoimagers. They may also use computers in conducting experiments. It is common to find a immunology technologist peering through the lens of a microscope or performing other related experiments in a laboratory. However, the nature of the work may vary considerably with each assignment.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Clinical immunology technologists need an innate interest in natural phenomena and scientific research regarding the immune system. They should have good manual dexterity for transferring micro-organisms from one culture medium to another without contaminating samples, and the ability to pay close attention to fine details. Most have a strong aptitude and background in microbiology, biochemistry and genetics. Clinical immunology technologists are usually well organized, enjoy working in the laboratory with equipment and performing tasks which require precision.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop and implement new laboratory procedures
  • Perform and analyze all clinical testing
  • Study blood cells and other tissue to determine their relation to various physiological and pathological conditions
  • Prepare tissue sections for microscopic examinations using techniques to demonstrate special cellular tissue elements or other characteristics
  • Examine body fluids and tissues for abnormal chemical levels, cells or bacteria
  • Assist with the completion of research papers
  • Troubleshoot and resolve any issues with assays and laboratory equipment
  • Assist in the performance of quality control testing and in the establishment of clinical research projects for the lab
  • Consult on test results with other staff members
  • Maintain records, perform statistical analysis of research data and generate reports from these findings.
  • May train and supervise staff
  • Order and maintain laboratory inventory and supplies
  • A typical day for a clinical immunology technologist will vary depending on where they work and what they specialize in. Those working with infectious patients and samples and hazardous chemicals must take safety precautions to avoid infection or injury. Again, working hours vary depending on the type of laboratory in which they work. Research laboratories usually operate weekdays only, however, in diagnostic clinical laboratories, technologists work rotating shifts of days, evenings and nights, including weekends and holidays.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Clinical immunology technologists work for hospitals, colleges and universities, research and diagnostic laboratories, companies in the agricultural industry, pharmaceutical companies, and private clinics.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for clinical immunology technologists? Those with experience may gain higher levels of responsibility and begin performing more advanced experiments. With further education, they can also advance to become immunologists, change their focus into another medical technology area (such as cytotechnology or histology technology), or become senior supervisors or managers. Some clinical immunology technologists can work for blood banks or teach at the clinical university level.
 

  Educational Paths  
Two educational routes are available for becoming a clinical immunology technologist. Either obtain a Bachelor of Science degree, with a major in immunology, or complete an immunology technology program at a college or technical institute, where the training will be more hands-on.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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