Wescor Inc, Logan, Utah, entered the laboratory market in 1972 with its first lab product: a vapor-pressure osmometer. Wayne Barlow, president and CEO, has led the company for 4 decades. He has worn many hats, including inventor and engineer. CLP spoke with Barlow about his company, its future, and the industry’s future.

CLP:  How did Wescor get involved in the diagnostic laboratory market?

Barlow: We had been looking for things we could do with our engineering and manufacturing talent that were not related to government projects. We developed some technology that we were able to transmute into the measurement of solution osmolality, and our first product that embodied that technology was a vapor-pressure osmometer. It was new technology, and it was quite exciting because it had a lot of advantages over the technology that was used at that time.

CLP:  What technology are you getting excited about now?

Barlow: These days we’re much more diverse, but we’re still very strong in the diagnostic laboratory market. We are the world leader in the laboratory diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. That position was based on an invention that I made with Dr Lewis Webster back in the early 1980s called the Macroduct. It is a small, disposable plastic device used to collect a sample of sweat from a child to diagnose cystic fibrosis. People who are born with this genetic disease excrete a lot more salt in their sweat than nonafflicted persons do, and that is the basis of a laboratory procedure that’s been going on since the 1950s called the sweat test. Other exciting products are our Aerospray family of automatic microscope slide stainers and cytocentrifuges. The Aerospray automatic stainer is also a cytocentrifuge. This gives the laboratory two excellent instruments in one package with only one footprint in what is usually scarce laboratory bench space.

CLP:  As technology progresses, will lab technology shrink or combine?

Barlow: I think there’s something of a trend in that direction. Technology makes it possible, as you well know, to cram a lot of data-processing capability into small spaces. And so, the mechanical elements are also being miniaturized. There are people working in nanotechnologies, so I think it’s generally a trend to make things smaller, more efficient, and more capable. Certainly, we’ve been involved with that, but there’s a limit to how far you can go with that because obviously you’ve got to make things usable for human beings.

CLP:  What equipment do you see in clinical labs of the future that aren’t there now, either because there isn’t a large need yet or because the products are so new they haven’t been widely adopted?

Barlow: I think you’re going to see a trend toward a lot more noninvasive clinical measurement, and we are involved in development along those lines. We have some products in development now that I can’t discuss here. Right now in the diagnostic market, it seems the holy grail is to be able to make measurements and get diagnostic parameters without sticking needles in the patient, drawing blood, or otherwise having invasive procedures. You’ll never replace surgery, but even surgery is becoming more elegant and less painful, so this seems to be an area where the marketplace is taking us, and Wescor is certainly involved in that.

CLP: Where would you like to see Wescor go in the next 5 years?

Barlow: We’re establishing strategic alliances with some European partners, and we expect to see accelerated growth, particularly in the next 3 to 5 years. We’re building a company that we hope will last for a long time to come, long after I’m gone. That’s part of the excitement for me, having been involved with Wescor and setting it on such a course. If I were to name the one thing I feel like I’ve accomplished in my tenure as CEO of Wescor, it’s that we’ve built up an excellent staff of people. In any organization, the most valuable asset you have are the people, and I’m very proud of the team we’ve put together.

CLP:  Other than good people, do you have an overarching philosophy of how to run a successful business?

Barlow: I’m a little old-fashioned in that we’re committed to serving the customer. I keep reminding our employees that ultimately, the boss is the person who writes out the check to pay for the product or the service. I think businesses that succeed are businesses that keep that in mind. So that’s always been the No 1 priority for me as CEO of Wescor: to make sure the customer comes first. We do our best to fill the customer’s needs and to make the customer feel glad that he made the decision to purchase a Wescor product. As long as we can continue to do that, our company will have a future for many decades to come.

CLP:  In the future of lab technology and clinical labs, what do you see happening? You’ve mentioned nanotechnology and noninvasive procedures. Is there anything else you see in the coming years?

Barlow: I wouldn’t claim to be a futurist, but I’ve always been fascinated with the ability some people seem to have to foresee what’s coming in the future. I don’t think anybody who studies or reads what’s going on in science would deny that we’re living in a very exciting time. With the ever-increasing understanding of the role of DNA, we’re going to see a complete revolution in the way we diagnose and treat disease. Many people are suggesting that in a generation or two, possibly three, we may be able to eliminate both genetic and infectious diseases. And that, to me, is an exciting time. Well, just imagine if we could bring somebody from 100 years ago to today to see what kind of technology we have in medicine, science, and space, and all the rest of it. They would think it was miraculous. A hundred years from today, there will be even greater changes. We can’t begin to imagine what’s coming in the future. But to me, the contemplation of that is what makes it exciting, and to be involved in some small way in that is something that makes me enjoy my job.

Zac Dillon is associate editor of  CLP. For more information, contact .