Variability in pre-analytical blood sampling and handling can significantly impact results obtained in quantitative immunoassays. Understanding the impact of these variables is critical for accurate quantification and validation of biomarker measurements. Particularly, in the design and execution of large clinical trials, even small differences in sample processing and handling can have dramatic effects in analytical reliability, results interpretation, trial management and outcome. The effects of two common blood sampling methods (serum vs. plasma) and two widely-used serum handling methods (on the clot with ambient temperature shipping, "traditional", vs. centrifuged with cold chain shipping, "protocol") on protein and autoantibody concentrations were examined. Matched serum and plasma samples were collected from 32 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients representing a wide range of disease activity status. Additionally, a set of matched serum samples with two sample handling methods was collected. One tube was processed per manufacturer's instructions and shipped overnight on cold packs (protocol). The matched tube, without prior centrifugation, was simultaneously shipped overnight at ambient temperatures (traditional). Upon delivery, the traditional tube was centrifuged. All samples were subsequently aliquoted and frozen prior to analysis of protein and autoantibody biomarkers. Median correlation between paired serum and plasma across all autoantibody assays was 0.99 (0.98-1.00) with a median % difference of -3.3 (-7.5 to 6.0). In contrast, observed protein biomarker concentrations were significantly affected by sample types, with median correlation of 0.99 (0.33-1.00) and a median % difference of -10 (-55 to 23). When the two serum collection/handling methods were compared, the median correlation between paired samples for autoantibodies was 0.99 (0.91-1.00) with a median difference of 4%. In contrast, significant increases were observed in protein biomarker concentrations among certain biomarkers in samples processed with the 'traditional' method. Autoantibody quantification appears robust to both sample type (plasma vs. serum) and pre-analytical sample collection/handling methods (protocol vs. traditional). In contrast, for non-antibody protein biomarker concentrations, sample type had a significant impact; plasma samples generally exhibit decreased protein biomarker concentrations relative to serum. Similarly, sample handling significantly impacted the variability of protein biomarker concentrations. When biomarker concentrations are combined algorithmically into a single test score such as a multi-biomarker disease activity test for rheumatoid arthritis (MBDA), changes in protein biomarker concentrations may result in a bias of the score. These results illustrate the importance of characterizing pre-analytical methodology, sample type, sample processing and handling procedures for clinical testing in order to ensure test accuracy.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jim.2012.02.007
View details for Web of Science ID 000304285900009
View details for PubMedID 22366959
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3404505