Reference standards for gene fusion molecular assays on cytological samples: an international validation study

J Clin Pathol. 2023 Jan;76(1):47-52. doi: 10.1136/jclinpath-2021-207825. Epub 2021 Aug 24.


Aims: Gene fusions assays are key for personalised treatments of advanced human cancers. Their implementation on cytological material requires a preliminary validation that may make use of cell line slides mimicking cytological samples. In this international multi-institutional study, gene fusion reference standards were developed and validated.

Methods: Cell lines harbouring EML4(13)-ALK(20) and SLC34A2(4)-ROS1(32) gene fusions were adopted to prepare reference standards. Eight laboratories (five adopting amplicon-based and three hybridisation-based platforms) received, at different dilution points two sets of slides (slide A 50.0%, slide B 25.0%, slide C 12.5% and slide D wild type) stained by Papanicolaou (Pap) and May Grunwald Giemsa (MGG). Analysis was carried out on a total of 64 slides.

Results: Four (50.0%) out of eight laboratories reported results on all slides and dilution points. While 12 (37.5%) out of 32 MGG slides were inadequate, 27 (84.4%) out of 32 Pap slides produced libraries adequate for variant calling. The laboratories using hybridisation-based platforms showed the highest rate of inadequate results (13/24 slides, 54.2%). Conversely, only 10.0% (4/40 slides) of inadequate results were reported by laboratories adopting amplicon-based platforms.

Conclusions: Reference standards in cytological format yield better results when Pap staining and processed by amplicon-based assays. Further investigation is required to optimise these standards for MGG stained cells and for hybridisation-based approaches.

Keywords: cytological techniques; molecular; molecular biology; pathology.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms*
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion*
  • Reference Standards
  • Staining and Labeling


  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion