Background: Immune monitoring by flow cytometry is a fast and highly informative way of studying the effects of novel therapeutics aimed at reducing transplant rejection or treating autoimmune diseases. The ONE Study consortium has recently initiated a series of clinical trials aimed at using different cell therapies to promote tolerance to renal allografts. To compare the effectiveness of different cell therapies, the consortium developed a robust immune monitoring strategy, including procedures for whole blood (WB) leukocyte subset profiling by flow cytometry.
Methods: Six leukocyte profiling panels computing 7- to 9-surface marker antigens for monitoring the major leukocyte subsets as well as characteristics of T cell, B cell, and dendritic cell (DC) subsets were designed. The precision and variability of these panels were estimated. The assay was standardized within eight international laboratories using Flow-Set Pro beads for mean fluorescence intensity target definition and the flow cytometer setup procedure. Standardization was demonstrated by performing inter-site comparisons.
Results: Optimized methods for sample collection, storage, preparation, and analysis were established, including protocols for gating target subsets. WB specimen age testing demonstrated that staining must be performed within 4 hours of sample collection to keep variability low, meaning less than or equal to 10% for the majority of defined leukocyte subsets. Inter-site comparisons between all participating centers testing shipped normal WB revealed good precision, with a variability of 0.05% to 30% between sites. Intra-assay analyses revealed a variability of 0.05% to 20% for the majority of subpopulations. This was dependent on the frequency of the particular subset, with smaller subsets showing higher variability. The intra-assay variability performance defined limits of quantitation (LoQ) for subsets, which will be the basis for assessing statistically significant differences achieved by the different cell therapies.
Conclusions: Local performance and central analysis of the ONE Study flow cytometry panel yields acceptable variability in a standardized assay at multiple international sites. These panels and procedures with WB allow unmanipulated analysis of changes in absolute cell numbers of leukocyte subsets in single- or multicenter clinical trials. Accordingly, we propose the ONE Study panel may be adopted as a standardized method for monitoring patients in clinical trials enrolling transplant patients, particularly trials of novel tolerance promoting therapies, to facilitate fair and meaningful comparisons between trials.