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Anita Shah on Choosing the Best Analytical Standards

Anita Shah currently works at Doctor’s Data, Inc. (DDI), as that company’s elements technical manager.

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Shah specializes in elemental analysis, using ICP-MS on clinical specimens. For over a decade she has been a leader in DDI’s method development and method validation, writing controlled documents, developing training and staff competency, preparing for laboratory audits, and much more. Ms. Shah has over 20 years’ combined laboratory experience in the biotech, clinical, and environmental industries. Before joining DDI, she served as a chief chemist at Gabriel Environmental Services, located in Chicago, Illinois, and as an executive at Torrent Gujarat Biotech in India.

Q: What does your laboratory do?

A: We are a clinical reference laboratory that provides specialty testing for a broad range of analytes in human specimens. I’m the technical manager in the trace element department, where we test blood, urine, hair, and feces for trace elements.

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Q: What main analytical technology do you use?

A: We use ICP-MS with reaction cell and collision cell technology.

Q: What elements do you test for in your department? What sort of sample prep is involved?

A: We test as many as 42 analytes in various biological specimens. Most of our sample preparation is done using acid digestion techniques with microwave ovens. Our urine preparation is performed using an online automated system developed here at DDI.

Q: Which elements are most challenging to test for, and why?

A: The most challenging elements are titanium, chromium, and vanadium.

Q: What are some of the challenges you run into when using ICP-MS, if any?

A: Contamination control, element stability, matrix interferences, and isobaric interferences.

Q: What advice would you have for those who are new to ICP-MS?

A: Read a beginner’s guide to become familiar with ICP-MS, get training, pay attention to details, and be patient.

Q: What do you use analytical standards for?

A: For calibration of the instrument, verifying the calibration, and preparing spikes.

Q: Which types of analytical standards do you use?

A: We mainly use Inorganic Ventures standards. They have stock blends and custom blends, with elements at the appropriate levels for our clinical specimens.

Q: What are the key things you are looking for when choosing analytical standards for the lab?

A: Accuracy, reliability, stability, and traceability. We have also found good technical support to be useful as well, especially when creating our custom multi-element standards.

Q: What are some of the challenges you run into when it comes to analytical standards?

A: There are many challenges when looking at the stock and custom multi-element standards we use. Improper combinations of elements and stabilizing reagents (acids) may result in standard degradation. Contamination of elements not part of the certified list of elements could also cause errors. For example, in the past, we’ve seen platinum and barium contamination in some of our gold standards.

Q: How do you handle those challenges?

A: It is important to understand what is going on when we encounter problems with our analytical standards. Inorganic Ventures has provided us with excellent support on element/acid compatibility and how to group our custom multi-element standards. They have been able to provide us with clean standards and with good approaches to problem solving.

Q: If a lab chooses the wrong analytical standard, or one that’s not reliable, what are some of the possible consequences?

A: DDI prides itself on quality results. Using a wrong or unreliable standard can affect quality and the reputation of a laboratory. Reliability and accuracy are very important to us.

Q: What advice would you have for lab professionals who are getting into similar work?

A: There is a need for qualified chemists and medical technologists in this area. When DDI first started trace element testing, there was very little interest outside of detecting lead in blood. DDI is the leader in testing many of the other trace elements using ICP-MS. Now trace element testing in clinical laboratories is growing. Some of this is driven by better technologies in ICP-MS, and some by increased awareness of clinical issues associated with toxic element exposure or essential element needs. Now more laboratories are testing more elements, and this represents new challenges. We need medical technologists with a strong analytical chemistry background, or analytical chemists with a strong clinical background. We love problem solvers.