An Extensive Quality Control and Quality Assurance (QC/QA) Program Significantly Improves Inter-Laboratory Concordance Rates of Flow-Cytometric Minimal Residual Disease Assessment in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: An I-BFM-FLOW-Network Report
Monitoring of minimal residual disease (MRD) by flow cytometry (FCM) is a powerful prognostic tool for predicting outcomes in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). To apply FCM-MRD in large, collaborative trials, dedicated laboratory staff must be educated to concordantly high levels of expertise and their performance quality should be continuously monitored. We sought to install a unique and comprehensive training and quality control (QC) program involving a large number of reference laboratories within the international Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster (I-BFM) consortium, in order to complement the standardization of the methodology with an educational component and persistent quality control measures. Our QC and quality assurance (QA) program is based on four major cornerstones: (i) a twinning maturation program, (ii) obligatory participation in external QA programs (spiked sample send around, United Kingdom National External Quality Assessment Service (UK NEQAS)), (iii) regular participation in list-mode-data (LMD) file ring trials (FCM data file send arounds), and (iv) surveys of independent data derived from trial results. We demonstrate that the training of laboratories using experienced twinning partners, along with continuous educational feedback significantly improves the performance of laboratories in detecting and quantifying MRD in pediatric ALL patients. Overall, our extensive education and quality control program improved inter-laboratory concordance rates of FCM-MRD assessments and ultimately led to a very high conformity of risk estimates in independent patient cohorts.