Are We There Yet? Impact of the First International Standard for Cytomegalovirus DNA on the Harmonization of Results Reported on Plasma Samples

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Background. Interassay harmonization of cytomegalovirus (CMV) DNA measurement is important for infection management. Uncertainty exists regarding the result harmonization achievable in patient plasma samples using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays with calibrators now traceable to the First World Health Organization International Standard (IS) for CMV DNA.Method. Serial dilutions of the IS and a blinded panel of 40 genotyped CMV DNA–positive pooled plasma samples and 10 negative plasma samples were tested by 6 laboratories using 10 qPCR assays calibrated to the IS. Each clinical sample was constructed using plasma from a single unique transplant recipient.Results. The variance for individual CMV DNA–positive samples was greater for clinical samples (median, 1.50 [range, 1.22–2.82] log10 IU/mL) than for IS dilutions (median, 0.94 [range, 0.69–1.35] log10 IU/mL) (P < .001); 58.9% of all clinical sample results and 93.6% of IS dilution results fell within ±0.5 log10 IU/mL of the mean viral load of each sample. Result variability was not impacted by either genotype or quantitative levels of CMV DNA. Testing procedure differences can significantly influence results, even when analyte-specific reagents are identical. For clinical samples, all assays demonstrated result bias (P < .008). Assays with amplicon sizes ≤86 bp had significantly higher results compared to assays with larger amplicon sizes (≥105 bp) (P < .001).Conclusions. The variability in CMV DNA results reported on individual samples has been reduced by the IS, but ongoing clinically relevant variability persists, preventing meaningful interassay result comparison.

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