The demand for clinical molecular genetics testing has steadily grown since its introduction in the 1980s. In order to reach and maintain the agreed quality standards of laboratory medicine, the same internal and external quality assurance (IQA/EQA) criteria have to be applied as for "conventional" clinical chemistry or pathology. In 1996 the European Molecular Genetics Quality Network (EMQN) was established in order to spread QA standards across Europe and to harmonise the existing national activities. EMQN is operated by a central co-ordinator and 17 national partners from 15 EU countries; since 1998 it is being funded by the EU commission for a 3-year period. EMQN promotes QA by two tools: by providing disease-specific best practice meetings (BPM) and EQA schemes. A typical BPM is focussed on one disease or group of related disorders. International experts report on the latest news of gene characterisation and function and the state-of-the-art techniques for mutation detection. Disease-specific EQA schemes are provided by experts in the field. DNA samples are sent out together with mock clinical referrals and a diagnostic question is asked. Written reports must be returned which are marked for genotyping and interpretation. So far, three BPMs have been held and six EQA schemes are in operation at various stages. Although mutation types and diagnostic techniques varied considerably between schemes, the overall technical performance showed a high diagnostic standard. Nevertheless, serious genotyping errors have been occurred in some schemes which underline the necessity of quality assurance efforts.
Conclusion: The European Molecular Genetics Quality Network provides a necessary platform for the internal and external quality assurance of molecular genetic testing.