News/ Trends/ Analysis

March 1, 2010

Study linking autism to vaccine retracted.
The British
medical journal The Lancet has retracted a 1998 study suggesting
a link between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine,
reports USA Today. The journal published the controversial paper
by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues in 1998, which prompted many British
parents to abandon the vaccine, leading to a resurgence of measles.
Subsequent studies have found no proof the vaccine is connected to
autism. The retraction came a week after the Britain's General Medical
Council ruled that Wakefield had been dishonest and unethical in
gathering data for his study.

Norway sees success with test/isolate MRSA solution. MRSA represents more than 65% of hospital staph infections in the U.S.
and 44% in the U.K., but only 1% in Norway. Norway's strict limit on
antibiotic use and a policy of testing and isolating infected patients
and healthcare providers have resulted in far fewer cases of MRSA. MRSA
infections kill an estimated 19,000 patients in U.S. hospitals each
year. Attempts to control MRSA have been made at individual hospitals.
Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, NJ, and University of Maryland
Medical Center in Baltimore are among hospitals that have reported
significantly reduced cases with an increased screening program modeled
after the Scandinavian country's initiative.

Infectious diseases

Easing H1N1 pandemic may let in new flu viruses. Signs from many parts of Europe and the United States suggest
circulation of H1N1 is declining, but it is still too early to say the
pandemic is over, Reuters reports. The declining wave of pandemic
H1N1 flu, however, is likely to be followed by new, unknown strains of
seasonal flu which health authorities must watch carefully to devise
protection measures, European flu experts say. The European Center for
Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warns that flu viruses “never
stand still,” and governments should remain on guard for possible
changes in the virus and new strains. The ECDC says the pandemic H1N1
flu did not completely halt other flu viruses but was the predominant
strain, so its decline could open the way for a new mix of interpandemic
or seasonal flu viruses.


Standard tests over diagnose peanut allergy. As many as four in five
children diagnosed with peanut allergy on standard tests alone may not be
truly allergic to peanuts, U.K. researchers found, and a new test could help
to cut the numbers wrongly diagnosed. Among 79 8-year-old children who were
deemed peanut-sensitive by standard allergy testing, only seven turned out
to have true allergies when they underwent more extensive testing. Peanut
allergy is typically diagnosed through a skin test and/or a blood test that
measures levels of IgE antibodies. But the current findings reported in the
January issue of Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggest
that a majority of children who test positive for peanut sensitivity on
standard tests do not have true allergies. The researchers also say a new
type of blood test, called component-resolved diagnostics (CRD), may be more
precise than standard IgE tests. CRD involves exposing blood samples to
specific, purified peanut proteins and measuring the IgE antibody response.
This is different from traditional IgE blood tests, which use crude peanut
extracts that contain numerous allergenic and non-allergenic molecules. CRD
testing showed that the IgE response to a particular peanut protein, called
Ara H2, may prove useful in separating children with true allergies from
those with a peanut sensitivity.


DNA test could detect blood disorder in newborns. Genetic testing in newborns can help identify T-cell lymphopenia, a blood
disorder that, according to new research, disrupts the function of the
immune system, HealthDay reports. Babies with T-cell lymphopenia can
appear to be healthy and have no family history of immunodeficiency, so many
infants with severe T-cell deficiencies are not identified until
life-threatening infections occur. As part of a study, which was published
in the Dec. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,
researchers screened all infants born in Wisconsin in 2008 for T-cell
lymphopenia using a DNA test that measures the number of T-cell receptor
excision circles (TREC) in a blood sample. Of the 71,000 infants screened,
11 were found to have at least one abnormal TREC test result, eight of whom
were diagnosed with T-cell lymphopenia.

Gene could predict breast-cancer treatment

Scientists have identified a gene which could predict whether women with
breast cancer will respond to treatment with tamoxifen, according to
findings published in Cancer Research. Researchers at Queen's
University in Belfast, U.K., say breast-cancer patients with high levels of
the gene FKBPL are more likely to respond to the commonly used drug
tamoxifen. Conversely, low levels of FKBPL indicate a poor response. It is
estimated that tamoxifen is only effective in around two-thirds of
breast-cancer patients. The researchers say using the FKBPL gene to test
patients could help many patients avoid unnecessary, ineffective treatment.

New studies

Blood test could diagnose RA before symptoms appear. Results of a new study have suggested that a blood test may be able to
predict rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and can act as an early warning sign of
the disease long before symptoms appear. Researchers from the American
College of Rheumatology analyzed blood samples taken from 86 people before
the onset of RA and compared the results to samples taken after symptoms had
appeared. They also examined a group of 256 participants who did not have
the disease. The study found that levels of inflammatory proteins called
cytokines increased significantly in patients prior to the development of
RA. The researchers believe that a blood test can screen for these elevated
protein levels to diagnose RA before symptoms emerge.

Low vitamin D may worsen asthma. People with asthma who have low levels of vitamin D fare worse than those
with high levels of the vitamin, a new study finds. Researchers found that
asthmatics with high vitamin D levels have better lung function and respond
better to treatment than do asthmatics with low vitamin D levels, reports
. For the study, published in the Jan. 28 online edition of the
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine,
researchers took vitamin D levels of 54 asthmatics and assessed lung
function, airway hyper-responsiveness, which is the prevalence of airway
constriction, and response to steroid treatment. People with low levels of
vitamin D in their blood did worse on the tests that evaluated lung function
and airway hyper-responsiveness, the researchers found. In those with
vitamin levels below 30 ng/mL, airway hyper-responsiveness almost doubled,
compared to those with more vitamin D in their blood.


New monkey malaria potentially fatal to humans. Researchers in Malaysia have found that an emerging new form of malaria is
widespread among humans in the region. The researchers conducted a
prospective study to identify key laboratory and clinical features of the
new form of malarial infection, which is caused by the mosquito parasite
Plasmodium knowlesi
, previously thought to infect only monkeys,
particularly the long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques that live in the
rainforests of Southeast Asia. The study showed that the parasite is also
widespread among humans in Malaysia, which — with further reports from
neighboring countries — has led experts to recognize P knowlesi as
the fifth cause of malaria in humans. Infection by P knowlesi is
potentially fatal because the parasites reproduce every 24 hours in the
blood, making early diagnosis and treatment essential. There are many
species of malaria parasite, four of which commonly cause disease in humans,
the most deadly being P falciparum, found mostly in African
countries. Another species is P malariae, which usually causes milder
symptoms and is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world.
The researchers, who published the study in the September 2009 issue of
Clinical Infectious Diseases
, say P knowlesi malaria can easily
be confused with P malariae since parasites look similar by
microscopy, but the latter causes a benign form of malaria.

Drug-resistant malaria discovered in Cambodia. Scientists have confirmed the first signs of malaria resistant to
artemisinin, the drug most used against the disease, in Cambodia's O'treng
village, reports The New York Times. An expert said virtually every
case of malaria he sees in western Cambodia is now resistant to drugs; and
in the Pailin area, patients who are given artemisinin take twice as long or
more to recover when compared with patients in other areas who take the
drug. Malaria experts note that several times in the past, this same area
around the Thai-Cambodian border has been a starting point for
drug-resistant strains of malaria, starting in the 1950s with the drug

Student newsRice University's lab-in-a-backpack goes to Ecuador.
Rice University's Rice 360: Institute for Global Health Technologies and Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) initiative sent to Ecuador 24 custom-made backpacks that include microscopes, centrifuges, pulse oximeters, otoscopes, and other items healthcare workers need to diagnose an illness in the field. A custom-designed power-distribution box and solar cell ensure the equipment can be used anywhere. The initiative began as a student project and has been sent for limited trials to Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Malawi, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, and Myanmar. Nineteen students, faculty, and staff members have worked on the pack's design for more than three years; FedEx donated transportation. Each year's trials have led to further refinements based on feedback from clinicians, technicians, and non-governmental organizations that have used the backpack to diagnose patients in the field. Rice 360 and BTB plan to develop a business model that will get more diagnostic packs into the field to help the world's poor. Follow the Rice team to Ecuador on Twitter
  or Facebook
, and read about the students' experiences at .

April 14-16. “Molecular Diagnostics 2010 — Putting MDx to the Test: How Your Lab Can Capitalize on Molecular Diagnostics” at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge (MA) will provide expert insight and advice on how labs can integrate MDx into their business strategies, given the current regulatory and business environment. Preconference workshops include starting up and running a molecular lab and coding, billing, and payment for molecular assays. Learn more at .

April 22-23.
The 42nd Annual Oak Ridge Conference will be held at The Fairmont in San
Jose, CA, and includes four sessions: Diagnostic technologies for
resource-limited settings; novel multiplex platforms for diagnostics;
emerging detection technologies for diagnostics; and novel separation
and sample prep technologies. Learn more at

April 27-28.The 15th Annual Executive War College at the Sheraton New Orleans is
designed to help lab administrators and pathologists learn practical
methods for improving the organizational performance and financial
success of their labs, including up-to-date information on market
trends, lab-management methods, and effective financial strategies for
enhancing revenues and profits. Register online at

May 4-6.CLMA ThinkLab'10 will take place at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
ThinkLab'10 will feature a variety of educational sessions specifically
designed for emerging lab leaders as well as seasoned C-Level executives
with more than 40 breakout sessions covering a wide range of topics
including molecular diagnostics. Learn more at .

May 17-19. The Molecular Pathology Essentials Course 2010 at Hyatt Regency Atlanta
will focus on the essential knowledge and current practice of clinical
molecular pathology, with an emphasis on case-based examples and
technologies. Register at

July 25-29. The 2010 AACC Annual Meeting and Clinical Lab Expo at the Anaheim [CA]
Convention Center will include five plenary sessions, symposia,
interactive workshops, short courses, brown-bag sessions, meet the
experts, posters, and oral abstract presentations. Learn more at


March 10, 2:00 p.m. ET. “What's New for 2010 in The Joint Commission's Lab Program?” Learn about changes in The Joint Commission's Lab program and how they affect accredited labs. Participants will be offered the opportunity to participate in a question and answer period. This conference is offered at no cost; register in advance at


March 25, 2:00 p.m. ET. “Mass Spec in the Clinical Lab: Is Now the Time?” This program will cover the fundamentals of mass spectrometry (mass spec) techniques (tandem mass spec, TOF methods, multiplex design); mass spec for vitamin-D determination, testosterone analysis, drug-screening confirmation, and quantifying immunosuppressant concentrations; and the pros and cons of mass spec vs. immunoassay in each of these applications. Register at .