HNL Lab Medicine expanding diagnostic capabilities

Cris Collingwood//June 1, 2022

HNL Lab Medicine expanding diagnostic capabilities

Cris Collingwood//June 1, 2022

Tissue embedded in paraffin for use in genome testing at HNL Lab Medicine – PHOTO/PROVIDED –

HNL Lab Medicine knows the future of medicine is in diagnostics and is ramping up its use of genetic testing to help doctors find the right tools to treat patients quickly. 

In addition to pathology tests, the company has moved into genomics to help the most severe cancer patients find the right “cocktail” to treat their specific needs and is testing COVID samples to see what variants are showing up in the area. 

Dr. Geetika Trivedi, clinical genomics scientist, HNL Lab Medicine – PHOTO/PROVIDED –

Geetika Trivedi, a clinical genomics scientist for HNL, said doctors have had access to genome testing, but in the past, had to send samples elsewhere to get results.  

Now, they can send them to HNL, shortening the time it takes to determine the right course of treatment, which she said can save up to a week.  

“For the most severe cases,” she said, “that can make the difference in a patient’s outcome.” 

Trivedi said she and her team are working on bringing genomic testing and have tested for solid tumors. “Cancer is complex because it is directed by genetics. We look at the DNA signature – the genetic makeup of the tumor and can predict if the patient will respond to a certain treatment or not.” 

If not, doctors can enroll patients in the proper clinical trials based on the information extracted from the DNA results extracted from the tumor samples, she said. 

HNL began when the pathology services of Lehigh Valley Hospital Center and Allentown Hospital merged in 1985, leading to the creation of HealthEast Laboratories.  

By 1998, the organization consolidated as Health Network Laboratories and became a for-profit limited partnership, with Lehigh Valley Health Network as its primary equity partner. 

 In 2020, the organization rebranded as HNL Lab Medicine. 

Shortly after, HNL acquired a company called Connective Tissue Gene Tests (CTGT). “Our goal is to become a leader in this field, not just locally but nationally,” the company said. 

Currently, HNL produces more than 60 million pathology results for more than three million patients a year, the company said.  

With genetic testing, “we look at the human genome that drives the cancer,” she said. “We get a lot of information and can’t look at each mutation, so we use a computer program to break them down.” 

Some mutations specific to a patient’s tumor type might have FDA approved therapy or NCCN guideline. This information can help doctors to determine the best treatment, she said.  “Based on the information we get; doctors can determine the best treatment.” 

All of this, she said, can be completed in two-to-three days, allowing treatment to start earlier. HNL is looking to move into Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) testing soon. MRD uses blood samples to diagnose and monitor how the patient is responding to treatment.  

“This is more minimally invasive and extremely important for diagnosis,” she said. It can also be used to monitor patients during treatment, especially if testing is needed on a regular basis.  

HNL works with Lehigh Valley Health Network and other clients with genetic testing and is looking to expanding into more facilities in the future. “We work with more than 30 hospitals for pathology,” said Leanne Aquino, spokesperson for HNL. 

“Our goal is to expand this to other hospitals,” Trivedi said. “It’s very exciting and we have an amazing team.” 

HNL has also been doing genome sequencing for COVID-19 samples, she said. “We can find out what variant is here and report it to the state Department of Health.  This is not being used for treatment purposes and is only used for making recommendations and updating guidelines”. 

Trivedi said the testing not only finds trends but can find new variants as they emerge.  

“We have seen trends since 2021 and have reported all the variants to the state,” she said. “Some variants are more transmissible than others and that helps the DOH make recommendations on travel restrictions, mask wearing and other issues.” 

While other labs are doing diagnostics, “we are a major lab doing sequencing.” 

HNL is monitoring for two new omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 but hasn’t seen them in data yet. These have been seen in the U.S, she said.  

In the past few weeks, Trivedi said there has been a 10-15% increase in Omicron cases, which were down to below 3%.  

While it is spreading, HNL can alert the DOH and local medical facilities, who can then put proper protocols in place to protect the public.  

“We have great tools to provide better care,” she said. “So, we will expand outside Lehigh Valley to offer a full menu of genetic testing.” 

HNL operates in more than 60 locations and employs more than 1,100 people, including 35 pathologists. The company’s labs serve over 12,000 healthcare providers in communities as far away as Chambersburg and southern New Jersey.