Better healthcare, safer food and environmental protection are just some of the ways in which accurate measurements enhance our quality of life. On 23 November, a new scientific facility to develop measurement standards in challenging areas such as life sciences will be inaugurated at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre i in Geel, Belgium.
The European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn i, said: "From buying food in the supermarket to undergoing clinical tests, European citizens depend on measurements and testing to be as accurate and harmonised as possible. This is particularly important for emerging technologies, such as genetic testing and nanotechnology. This new facility will enable the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) to remain at the forefront of measurement science, by developing internationally-recognised measurement standards that are used as benchmarks in analytical laboratories across Europe and worldwide."
The new facility will be used to develop and produce reference materials, which possess a precisely-known property and are the basis for complex measurements, such as the amount of genetically modified maize or the number of bacteria in a food sample. The total cost of the facility was 11 M€ - of which 4.5 M€ was funded from revenue from JRC's reference material activities.
The reference materials developed and produced at JRC's Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) provide laboratories around the world with a benchmark to deliver accurate, harmonised and traceable result and help implement legislation through accurate and reliable testing, also in emerging areas such as molecular biosciences and personalised medicine.
The building features a large and flexible production hall which brings together processing and measurement equipment in an innovative manner. It will provide Europe with a unique facility for the development and production of reference materials, bridging the gap between laboratory and industrial scale. The new building also houses laboratories for the analysis of heavy metals and proteins and a special laboratory for the safe handling of biomaterials.
About reference materials
There are countless examples in which accurate measurements are crucial, such as hospital blood tests, measuring the size of nanoparticles or checking shipments of foodstuffs for the presence of genetically modified organisms, and they all have a direct impact on the citizens' every day life.
Reference materials play a crucial role behind the scenes, enabling analytical laboratories over the world to carry out tests in a comparable and harmonised manner. They are used by laboratories to calibrate their instruments, to develop reliable testing methods and to perform their regular quality controls.
The JRC's Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) is one of the leading developers and producers of reference materials in the world, particularly in the clinical, food and GMO application areas. It currently provides over 670 reference materials, and distributes around 20,000 units per year.
Some examples of JRC-IRMM’s reference materials:
-JRC-IRMM produced the world’s first ever certified reference materials for GMO quantification in food and feed in 1999, and is today recognised as a world leader in the area of GMO reference materials in food and feed.
-Measurements of serum proteins are used for the diagnosis of many conditions including infection, liver or kidney disorders and the monitoring of autoimmune diseases. The JRC-IRMM's reference materials for human serum proteins are since the 1990s the de facto standards which enable laboratories worldwide to use common reference ranges in diagnosis and to compare results between hospitals and countries over time. More recently, replacement reference materials for 12 proteins were released in 2008, and a separate one for the important C-reactive protein in 2009 - which is unique in the world.
-In 2009, three reference materials produced by JRC-IRMM for genetic testing became the first ever reference materials to be accepted internationally in the area of genetic testing by the Joint Committee for Traceability in Laboratory Medicine (JCTLM). These reference materials are suitable for the quality control of the identification of a human genetic mutation.
-JRC-IRMM produces in addition highly specialised reference materials to check and account for irradiated nuclear fuel in nuclear safeguards applications.
The JRC Institute for Reference Materials (IRMM)
The mission of the IRMM is to promote a common and reliable European measurement system in support of EU i policies.
The prime objective of the IRMM is to build confidence in the comparability of measurements by the production and dissemination of internationally accepted quality assurance tools, including validated methods, reference materials, reference measurements, interlaboratory comparisons and training.