What is Immunofixation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Immunofixation is a lab test a doctor can order to look for the presence of particular proteins in a blood or urine sample. Sometimes, the goal is diagnostic, to learn more about a medical problem, and in other cases a doctor may order the test to assess a patient's response to treatment or monitor an ongoing medical issue. The immunofixation test can check for signs of cancers and certain diseases, and requires around three hours of lab time.

Immunofixation tests may look for proteins in the urine.
Immunofixation tests may look for proteins in the urine.

In this test, a technician takes a sample and subjects it to electrophoresis, where a current runs through a gel matrix with the sample. The current forces proteins in the sample to organize themselves by size, grouping like with like. The technician will add antigens to the gel. If the antigens find antibodies to react to, they create a dark stripe. The stripe indicates a positive test, showing antibodies of concern in the sample. The technician will write up the results for the doctor.

Immunofixation may involve looking for the presence of proteins in a blood sample.
Immunofixation may involve looking for the presence of proteins in a blood sample.

The immunofixation test is very useful for looking for monoclonal immunoglobulins. These arise when numerous clones of a parent cell are all producing identical immunoglobulins, as seen in patients with conditions like myeloma. A positive result does not necessarily mean a patient has cancer or another disease associated with monoclonal immunoglobulins, but it can certainly be an indicator of the need for further diagnostic testing to determine the cause.

One advantage of immunofixation is relative rapidity, when compared with other available tests. It can also be more sensitive. In a hospital with its own lab facilities, it may be possible to turn results around very quickly, unless the lab has a heavy work load. Patients with concerns about how long they need to wait for test results can ask their doctors about what to expect.

As with other lab tests, positive and negative results on an immunofixation test are not necessarily definitive. Many factors can lead to false results and a doctor may want another test to follow up. It is also possible to have an ambiguous result, where there is not enough information available to draw any firm conclusions about the patient's case. A doctor may ask to repeat the test and see if it is possible to get better results, or may recommend a different test. Test results alone are not enough to start treatment; the doctor also needs to consider any findings from the patient's examination.

Immunofixation is a lab test that can be performed relatively quickly.
Immunofixation is a lab test that can be performed relatively quickly.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

starrynight

@JessicaLynn - A friend of mine actually had an immunofixation test awhile back. I'm glad to hear the lab technician may have actually enjoyed doing!

Unfortunately, my friends test came out positive and really scared her! However, upon further testing my friend didn't have myeloma or anything like that, which was a relief.

However, her doctors are still trying to figure out what actually is wrong with her!

JessicaLynn

A friend of mine works in a lab doing stuff like this all day. Her job sounds pretty interesting to me, but it does require a Masters degree. I don't think I'm willing to go back to school at this point in life, so I just live vicariously through her lab stories!

Electrophoresis is her favorite lab test to perform. She told me she really likes how clearly you can see the reaction. She said it's one of the easiest lab tests to read the results from.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: