An Audit of Failed Immunohistochemical Slides in a Clinical Laboratory: The Role of On-Slide Controls

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Appropriate controls are critical for the correct interpretation of immunohistochemistry (IHC) assays and help to detect unsuccessful/suboptimal slides. We performed an audit of slides that were designated as being “failed” by the IHC laboratory (ie, laboratory-failed slides) of a large North American oncology and transplant center. All slides were run with on-slide controls. The study included analysis of only those failed slides where staining of both internal and external controls were unsuccessful/suboptimal in a period of 65 days. Failed slides were categorized based on the reason why the laboratory failed the slides. The study compared frequencies of failed slides across 9 automated stainers from 2 manufacturers and between class 1 and class 2 biomarkers. Distinction between “failed slides” and “false-negative/false-positive tests” is emphasized. The study included 22,234 IHC slides in the study period. Of those, 452 (2%) were designated as “failed” by the laboratory. Class 1 and class 2 tests showed failure rates of 0.8% and 9%, respectively. The most frequent reason for failed slides on one platform related to “no or weak staining,” whereas the other had more failed slides due to “high signal-to-noise ratio” (P<0.0001, χ2 test). Although the slides were run in groups of the same as well as different IHC protocols, unsuccessful/suboptimal testing typically manifested as individual slides (92%) and not as groups of slides; this indicates that so-called “batch controls” are not suitable as controls for automated platforms. We conclude that in the era of automated IHC staining platforms, on-slide controls allow for the proper identification of IHC slides that should be failed by the IHC laboratory and represent a powerful tool for preventing the reporting of false-negative/false-positive tests.

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