The history of laboratory science

Article written by CEMP's team

Without a doubt, the history of laboratory science represents an exciting journey, from the first challenging steps to the exciting advances and challenges taking place today. Thus, although it is not easy to summarize it, we will try to do so in this article. Let’s go!


Where does the history of laboratory science begin?

Although the potential approaches to the history of laboratory science are very diverse, we will try to link them with the evolution of laboratories. Thus, this is also the approach used by J.M. González Buitrago in an interesting research line that can serve as a guide to define the different stages of this history.

Therefore, the beginning of the history of laboratory science is at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. It was then that the first laboratories were first linked to research tasks, teaching and, a little later, clinical diagnosis, which was already being developed at hospital facilities.

Thus, France is the first place where the idea of creating this type of facility arises, based on the work of Fourcroy, a doctor and chemist at the end of the 18th century.

Shortly after, similar initiatives appeared in Germany and its area of influence, with interesting contributions from different scientists.

However, it wasn’t until the middle of the century when clinical analyzes began to be linked more directly with diagnostic work. In this way, advances in the field of organic chemistry were first allowing fluid analysis techniques to be applied, and began to gain relevance for diagnosis.

Subsequently, in the second half of the 19th century, the implementation of clinical laboratories became widespread throughout different European countries and the United States.

Regarding the typology of clinical analysis, the following appeared during that period:

  • Urinalysis (albumin, methyl ketones, bilirubin, urea, etc.)
  • Blood tests (glucose, cholesterol, pH, etc.)


History of laboratory science in the 20th century

The 20th century has a decisive significance within the history of laboratory science. In fact, the developments achieved over these 100 years have radically transformed the role and effectiveness of these analytical techniques.

In this sense, and in an effort to summarize history in a few lines, we can mention the following milestones:

  • As multiple technical advances took place, the field of clinical analysis began to be divided into specializations. This is how disciplines such as hematology, microbiology and many others arose.
  • The generalization of the use of the hypodermic syringe and venipuncture in the clinical and laboratory settings
  • Extensive development of chemical analysis methods, applied to blood and urine samples. Thus, new techniques are designed that allow for faster, more reliable and more efficient analyses. In addition to this, they make it possible to use smaller volume samples, with all the advantages that this entails. Among others, clinical analyzes began to be related to:

     – Blood glucose levels

     – Urea in blood and urine

     – Detection of phosphates, calcium and magnesium

     – Blood pH measurements

     – CO2 content in blood

     – Enzymatic analysis

  • Of course, analytical advances are also linked to the development of enhanced instruments and techniques for clinical analysis. In this sense, the development of better quality reagents, together with the automation of many types of analyses, facilitated the improvement of the reliability and efficiency of clinical analysis work. This rapid transformation occurred, fundamentally, already in the second half of the 20th century.


Clinical analysis laboratories today

Today, automation and computerization processes continue to advance rapidly, adding yed another key milestones in the exciting history of laboratory science.

As such, laboratory computer management programs are becoming key in facilitating daily work in laboratories, providing extra efficiency to the entire process.

At the same time, adding process automation tools not only contributes to greater efficiencies, but also increases accuracy and reduces the margin for human error on the part of the analyst.

Similarly, the concept of quality in clinical analysis laboratories is starting to be increasingly relevant. As such, certifications and regulations (by ISO and similar institutions), which were already very popular in the business world, are starting to be extended to health institutions and, in particular, to the work of laboratories.

In addition to this, specialization possibilities continue to grow, both in the laboratories and in the training of analysts. In this sense, remember that our Master in Clinical Analysis allows you to acquire the necessary knowledge to practice the following specialties:

  • Genetics 
  • Parasitology 
  • Biochemistry 
  • Microbiology 
  • Cytology 

In short, as you have seen, the history of laboratory science is really exciting. From its rudimentary and hesitant beginnings, decisive technical and methodological advances have accumulated over the years. In fact, these advances have allowed the development of analytical tools and procedures that have transformed the daily work of analysts and the effectiveness of their work.

Without a doubt, it is a very dynamic and constantly evolving field of activity, for which solid and constant up-to-date training is required.

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