Laboratory for Human Biology Research
Northwestern University


The Laboratory is located within the Anthropology Department at Northwestern University, and also serves as home to the methodology core for Cells to Society. It is comprised of 1,500 square feet of Biosafety Level 2 certified wet-lab space. The laboratory is fully equipped to support immunoassay analysis of human blood, saliva, and urine, as well as the assessment of body composition, energy expenditure, and cardiovascular function.  Resources are also available for data analysis.

Development of minimally-invasive methods

Methodological constraints have limited efforts to investigate physiological function and health in population-based settings.  Many important markers of health are present in serum or plasma, but venipuncture is a relatively invasive procedure.  In addition, once collected, these samples must be immediately centrifuged, separated, and quick-frozen or assayed, requiring ready access to lab facilities. 

A primary mission of the laboratory is the development and validation of assays using whole blood collected on filter paper.  Filter paper has been used in hospitals for decades to collect blood from newborns, and it has proven to be a safe and effective means for collecting and transporting samples in several field-based studies. Blood spot collection on filter paper has several advantages over venipuncture that make it ideal for field-based research in human biology and health: 1) collection requires only a simple finger prick, and is relatively painless and non-invasive; 2) samples do not have to be centrifuged, separated, or immediately frozen; 4) the filter paper matrix stabilizes blood so that most analytes do not degrade at ambient temperatures for at least 2 weeks (and often longer);  5) samples are easily stored and transported; 6) multiple assays can be performed from a single drop of whole blood. 

Luminex Multiplex Assay System

The laboratory has invested in the next generation of immunoassay technology with the Luminex flow analyzer.  Instead of coating plates or tubes with capture antibody, this immunoassay system uses polystyrene microspheres with unique fluorescent signatures as the solid phase.  Capture antibody is bound to the microspheres, and then incubated with the sample and reporter antibody.  The microspheres pass single-file through a flow cytometer, which identifies the microsphere and quantifies the amount of analyte bound to its surface.  Currently, 100 bead sets are available, thereby allowing one to measure—in theory—up to 100 different analytes in the same sample, at the same time, using 100 different sets of beads. The sensitivity and low sample volume required for this method promise to expand the range of factors that can be measured in saliva and whole blood spots from finger pricks. 

We have developed methods for measuring aspects of immune function (antibodies against the Epstein-Barr virus, total IgE) and inflammation (CRP), as well as measures of nutritional status (Transferrin receptor, Leptin). Click here for a complete list of analytes that have been measured in the blood spot samples.

Biomek NXp Laboratory Automation Workstation

The "robot" provides the lab with a flexible platform for high-throughput immunoassay analysis. The system includes an 8-channel pipetter, gripper, and integrated platewasher and multi-node platereader. A dedicated computer controls the system, and automates steps associated with liquid handling and data reduction.