Background: The objective of this study was the evaluation of NAT technology for the detection of HCV RNA in plasma pools according to the recommendations of the Paul Ehrlich Institute (5000 IU/mL/donation) and the Committee for Proprietary Medical Products (100 IU/mL/manufacturing pool).
Study design and methods: Serial dilutions of both the EUROHEP standard (3,800 genome equivalents [geq]/mL; HCV genotype 1) and the World Health Organization (WHO) international standard (100,000 IU/mL; HCV genotype 1) were made in S/D plasma (ESPEP plasma, OctaPharma), which was nonreactive in serologic tests. Serial dilutions of plasma (2 mL) were used for extraction of HCV RNA with an automated version of a nucleic acid isolation method (NucliSens Extractor, Organon Teknika). HCV RNA was co-extracted from 2 mL of plasma, together with 84 copies of an in vitro-synthesized single-strand RNA serving as internal extraction control (IC) to monitor the efficiency of extraction and PCR. Amplification and detection of both HCV RNA and IC RNA were performed with an automated PCR system and a qualitative HCV assay (COBAS Amplicor 2.0 HCV, Roche Diagnostics).
Results: A cutoff value of 16 geq per mL (10/10 runs [100% hit rate]) was found by using the EUROHEP standard, whereas the WHO international standard had a cutoff value of approximately 12 IU per mL (10/10 runs [100% hit rate]). The IC had a cutoff value of approximately 17.5 copies per mL (6/6 runs [100% hit rate]). Forty-two copies per mL of IC RNA were found in 282 of 284 runs (99% hit rate). The negative controls (ESDEP plasma) were negative in all experiments. Experiments with pool sizes of 12, 24, 48, and 96 using serial dilutions of the WHO international standard revealed a cutoff value of 8 IU per mL (100% hit rate). The EUROHEP standard and the WHO international standard were detected with a 50 percent detection endpoint of 5.2 geq per mL and 1.5 IU per mL, respectively.
Conclusion: This test system (NucliSens Extractor, and the COBAS Amplicor 2.0 HCV assay) revealed a high sensitivity for HCV RNA; considering the proposed requirements for sensitivity of NAT assays for the detection of HCV RNA in donor plasma, pool sizes of about 400 donors are possible. These endpoint results indicated that 1 IU is equal to about 3.4 geq.