Reliability of liquid biopsy analysis: an inter-laboratory comparison of circulating tumor DNA extraction and sequencing with different platforms


Liquid biopsy, the analysis of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), is a promising tool in oncology, especially in personalized medicine. Although its main applications currently focus on selection and adjustment of therapy, ctDNA may also be used to monitor residual disease, establish prognosis, detect relapses, and possibly screen at-risk individuals. CtDNA represents a small and variable proportion of circulating cell-free DNA (ccfDNA) which is itself present at a low concentration in normal individuals and so analyzing ctDNA is technically challenging. Various commercial systems have recently appeared on the market, but it remains difficult for practitioners to compare their performance and to determine whether they yield comparable results. As a first step toward establishing national guidelines for ctDNA analyses, four laboratories in Switzerland joined a comparative exercise to assess ccfDNA extraction and ctDNA analysis by sequencing. Extraction was performed using six distinct methods and yielded ccfDNA of equally high quality, suitable for sequencing. Sequencing of synthetic samples containing predefined amounts of eight mutations was performed on three different systems, with similar results. In all four laboratories, mutations were easily identified down to 1% allele frequency, whereas detection at 0.1% proved challenging. Linearity was excellent in all cases and while molecular yield was superior with one system this did not impact on sensitivity. This study also led to several additional conclusions: First, national guidelines should concentrate on principles of good laboratory practice rather than recommend a particular system. Second, it is essential that laboratories thoroughly validate every aspect of extraction and sequencing, in particular with respect to initial amount of DNA and average sequencing depth. Finally, as software proved critical for mutation detection, laboratories should validate the performance of variant callers and underlying algorithms with respect to various types of mutations.

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Fig. 1: Extraction results.
Fig. 2: Molecular recovery.
Fig. 3: Linearity of mutation detection.


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Koessler, T., Paradiso, V., Piscuoglio, S. et al. Reliability of liquid biopsy analysis: an inter-laboratory comparison of circulating tumor DNA extraction and sequencing with different platforms. Lab Invest 100, 1475–1484 (2020).

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