Purpose: Persistently elevated posttreatment plasma EBV DNA is a robust predictor of relapse in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). However, assay standardization is necessary for use in biomarker-driven trials. We conducted a study to harmonize the method between four centers with expertise in EBV DNA quantitation.
Experimental Design: Plasma samples of 40 patients with NPC were distributed to four centers. DNA was extracted and EBV DNA copy number was determined by real-time quantitative PCR (BamHI-W primer/probe). Centers used the same protocol but generated their own calibrators. A harmonization study was then conducted using the same calibrators and PCR master mix and validated with ten pooled samples.
Results: The initial intraclass correlations (ICC) for the first 40 samples between each center and the index center were 0.62 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.39–0.78], 0.70 (0.50–0.83), and 0.59 (0.35–0.76). The largest variability was the use of different PCR master mixes and calibrators. Standardization improved ICC to 0.83 (0.5–0.95), 0.95 (0.83–0.99) and 0.96 (0.86–0.99), respectively, for ten archival frozen samples. For fresh plasma with spiked-in EBV DNA, correlations were more than 0.99 between the centers. At 5 EBV DNA copies per reaction or above, the coefficient of variance (CV) was less than 10% for the cycle threshold (Ct) among all centers, suggesting this concentration can be reliably used as a cutoff for defining the presence of detectable EBV DNA.
Conclusions: Quantitative PCR assays, even when conducted in experienced clinical labs, can yield large variability in plasma EBV DNA copy numbers without harmonization. The use of common calibrators and PCR master mix can help to reduce variability. Clin Cancer Res; 19(8); 1–8. ©2013 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Clinical Cancer Research Online (http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received November 30, 2012.
- Revision received February 6, 2013.
- Accepted February 6, 2013.
- ©2013 American Association for Cancer Research.