Recent Submissions

  • A high throughput immuno-affinity mass spectrometry method for detection and quantitation of SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein in human saliva and its comparison with RT-PCR, RT-LAMP, and lateral flow rapid antigen test

    Bird, Paul; Gupta, Pankaj; Holmes, Christopher; Lane, Dan (2024-01-23)
    Objectives: Many reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) methods exist that can detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in different matrices. RT-PCR is highly sensitive, although viral RNA may be detected long after active infection has taken place. SARS-CoV-2 proteins have shorter detection windows hence their detection might be more meaningful. Given salivary droplets represent a main source of transmission, we explored the detection of viral RNA and protein using four different detection platforms including SISCAPA peptide immunoaffinity liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (SISCAPA-LC-MS) using polyclonal capture antibodies. Methods: The SISCAPA-LC MS method was compared to RT-PCR, RT-loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP), and a lateral flow rapid antigen test (RAT) for the detection of virus material in the drool saliva of 102 patients hospitalised after infection with SARS-CoV-2. Cycle thresholds (Ct) of RT-PCR (E gene) were compared to RT-LAMP time-to-positive (TTP) (NE and Orf1a genes), RAT optical densitometry measurements (test line/control line ratio) and to SISCAPA-LC-MS for measurements of viral protein. Results: SISCAPA-LC-MS showed low sensitivity (37.7 %) but high specificity (89.8 %). RAT showed lower sensitivity (24.5 %) and high specificity (100 %). RT-LAMP had high sensitivity (83.0 %) and specificity (100.0 %). At high initial viral RNA loads (<20 Ct), results obtained using SISCAPA-LC-MS correlated with RT-PCR (R2 0.57, p-value 0.002). Conclusions: Detection of SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein in saliva was less frequent than the detection of viral RNA. The SISCAPA-LC-MS method allowed processing of multiple samples in <150 min and was scalable, enabling high throughput.
  • Identification and characterisation of a rare MTTP variant underlying hereditary non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

    Barwell, Julian; Gupta, Pankaj; Neal, Christopher P; Tobin, Martin D; Vemala, Vishwaray M (2023-04-23)
    Background & aims: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a complex trait with an estimated prevalence of 25% globally. We aimed to identify the genetic variant underlying a four-generation family with progressive NAFLD leading to cirrhosis, decompensation, and development of hepatocellular carcinoma in the absence of common risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Methods: Exome sequencing and genome comparisons were used to identify the likely causal variant. We extensively characterised the clinical phenotype and post-prandial metabolic responses of family members with the identified novel variant in comparison with healthy non-carriers and wild-type patients with NAFLD. Variant-expressing hepatocyte-like cells (HLCs) were derived from human-induced pluripotent stem cells generated from homozygous donor skin fibroblasts and restored to wild-type using CRISPR-Cas9. The phenotype was assessed using imaging, targeted RNA analysis, and molecular expression arrays. Results: We identified a rare causal variant c.1691T>C p.I564T (rs745447480) in MTTP, encoding microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP), associated with progressive NAFLD, unrelated to metabolic syndrome and without characteristic features of abetalipoproteinaemia. HLCs derived from a homozygote donor had significantly lower MTP activity and lower lipoprotein ApoB secretion than wild-type cells, while having similar levels of MTP mRNA and protein. Cytoplasmic triglyceride accumulation in HLCs triggered endoplasmic reticulum stress, secretion of pro-inflammatory mediators, and production of reactive oxygen species. Conclusions: We have identified and characterised a rare causal variant in MTTP, and homozygosity for MTTP p.I564T is associated with progressive NAFLD without any other manifestations of abetalipoproteinaemia. Our findings provide insights into mechanisms driving progressive NAFLD. Impact and implications: A rare genetic variant in the gene MTTP has been identified as responsible for the development of severe non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in a four-generation family with no typical disease risk factors. A cell line culture created harbouring this variant gene was characterised to understand how this genetic variation leads to a defect in liver cells, which results in accumulation of fat and processes that promote disease. This is now a useful model for studying the disease pathways and to discover new ways to treat common types of fatty liver disease.
  • Macroscopic examination of pathology specimens: a critical reappraisal

    Dormer, John (2023-11-22)
    Meticulous macroscopic examination of specimens and tissue sampling are crucial for accurate histopathology reporting. However, macroscopy has generally received less attention than microscopy and may be delegated to relatively inexperienced practitioners with limited guidance and supervision. This introductory paper in the minisymposium, Macroscopy Under the Microscope, focuses on issues regarding macroscopic examination and tissue sampling that have been insufficiently addressed in the published literature. It highlights the importance of specimen examination and sampling, discusses some general principles, outlines challenges and suggests potential solutions. It is critical to get macroscopy right the first time as it may not be possible to rectify errors even with expert histological assessment or to retrospectively collect missing data after the specimen retention period. Dissectors must, therefore, receive adequate guidance and supervision until they are proficient in macroscopic specimen examination. We emphasise the importance of the clinical context, optimal specimen fixation, succinct and clinically relevant macroscopic descriptions, macrophotography and judicious tissue sampling. We note that current recommendations based on the number of blocks to be submitted per maximum tumour dimension are ambiguous as the amount of tissue submitted in a cassette is not standardised and it is unclear whether 'block' refers to a tissue block or a paraffin block. Concerns around potential oversampling of 'therapeutic' specimens that could result in overdiagnosis due to detection of incidentalomas are also discussed. We hope that the issues discussed in this paper will engender debate on this clinically critical aspect of pathology practice.
  • Post mortem blood bromazolam concentrations and co-findings in 96 coronial cases within England and Wales

    Hikin, L J; Smith, P R; Morley, S R (2023-11-28)
    Bromazolam is a newly emerging benzodiazepine drug which is not licensed for medicinal use. It may be sourced as a New Psychoactive Substance (NPS) for its desired effects or be consumed unknowingly via counterfeit Xanax® or Valium® preparations. As part of our Coronial workload, we observed an increase in the detection of bromazolam from September 2021 to November 2022. We report a series of 96 cases in which bromazolam was quantitated by high resolution accurate mass - mass spectrometry (HRAM - MS) in post-mortem blood. The mean (SD) post-mortem blood bromazolam concentration from our case series was 64.6 ( ± 79.4) µg/L (range <1-425 µg/L). Routine toxicological screening results have also been reported; the most commonly encountered drugs taken in combination with bromazolam were cocaine, gabapentinoids and diazepam. In 48% of cases at least one further designer benzodiazepine drug was also present (etizolam, flualprazolam, flubromazolam, flubromazepam). It is essential that laboratories providing toxicological investigations are aware of the limitations of their assays; and inclusion of bromazolam within targeted screening panels using LC-MS/MS is encouraged. Bromazolam has not been associated with death in isolation from resulting toxic concentrations; however, it is likely to enhance adverse clinical effects when taken in combination with stimulant and/or centrally-acting depressant drugs (poly-drug deaths). Bromazolam, similar to other benzodiazepines, may also impair cognition and decision making skills.
  • Standardized clinical annotation of digital histopathology slides at the point of diagnosis

    Hero, Emily (2023-11)
    As digital pathology replaces conventional glass slide microscopy as a means of reporting cellular pathology samples, the annotation of digital pathology whole slide images is rapidly becoming part of a pathologist's regular practice. Currently, there is no recognizable organization of these annotations, and as a result, pathologists adopt an arbitrary approach to defining regions of interest, leading to irregularity and inconsistency and limiting the downstream efficient use of this valuable effort. In this study, we propose a Standardized Annotation Reporting Style for digital whole slide images. We formed a list of 167 commonly annotated entities (under 12 specialty subcategories) based on review of Royal College of Pathologists and College of American Pathologists documents, feedback from reporting pathologists in our NHS department, and experience in developing annotation dictionaries for PathLAKE research projects. Each entity was assigned a suitable annotation shape, SNOMED CT (SNOMED International) code, and unique color. Additionally, as an example of how the approach could be expanded to specific tumor types, all lung tumors in the fifth World Health Organization of thoracic tumors 2021 were included. The proposed standardization of annotations increases their utility, making them identifiable at low power and searchable across and between cases. This would aid pathologists reporting and reviewing cases and enable annotations to be used for research. This structured approach could serve as the basis for an industry standard and be easily adopted to ensure maximum functionality and efficiency in the use of annotations made during routine clinical examination of digital slides.
  • Impact of changing from autopsy to post-mortem CT in an entire HM Coroner region due to a shortage of available pathologists

    Robinson, C; Morgan, B (2023-11)
    A significant problem facing routine medicolegal coroner-referred autopsies is a shortfall of pathologists prepared to perform them. This was particularly acute in Lancashire, where the coroner decided to initiate a service that relied on post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT). This involved training anatomical pathology technologists (APTs) to perform external examinations, radiographers to perform scans, and radiologists to interpret them. The service started in 2018 and now examines over 1,500 cases per year. This study outlines the PMCT process using NHS staff, with CT equipment and logistics managed by the commercial sector. It compares the demographics and outcomes of PM investigations for two 6-month periods: the autopsy service prior to 2018, and then the PMCT service. These data were then compared with previous UK PMCT data. Referrals for adult non-suspicious deaths were made in 913 cases of which 793 (87%) had PMCT between 01/10/2018 and 31/03/2019. Fifty-six cases had autopsy after PMCT, so 81% of cases potentially avoided autopsy. The PMCT service did not delay release of bodies to the next-of-kin. Comparing the cause of death given shows no difference in the proportions of natural and unnatural deaths. There was an increase in diagnosis of coronary artery disease for PMCT, with less respiratory diagnoses, a feature not previously demonstrated. These data suggest PMCT is a practical solution for potentially failing autopsy services. By necessity, this involves changes in diagnoses, as PMCT and autopsy have different strengths and weakness, but the ability to pick up unnatural death appears unaffected.
  • Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a post-mortem CT service for adult non-suspicious death

    James, J; Morgan, B; Richards, C; Robertson, C; West, K (2023-11)
    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT) service was expanded from three to seven cases per day to help mortuary services and avoid invasive autopsy. Additional targeted angiography and pulmonary ventilation procedures were stopped and triage rules relaxed to allow more indications to be scanned, including those requiring toxicology. A service evaluation was performed for the first 3-months of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the equivalent period the previous year to study the impact of these changes. It was found that, despite the increase in deaths regionally, coronial referrals remained about 100 per month, a reduction in referral rate. The number undergoing PMCT rose from 28% to 74% of cases. Turnaround time remained the same. For cases triaged to PMCT, the need for subsequent autopsy increased from 7.9% to 15.8%. No significant changes were seen in diagnosis rates, including cardiac or respiratory. There was an increase in patients with coronary death without severe coronary calcification who underwent autopsy after PMCT. These may have been diagnosed by targeted coronary angiography. Fifty-three cases requiring toxicology/biochemistry had PMCT, with 38 having PMCT only. In 8/11 (72.7%) cases with normal PMCT and toxicology as the key diagnostic test, autopsy was performed prior to results. This suggests the pathology team were reluctant to risk an "unascertained" outcome. This study shows that it is possible to increase PMCT services by widening referral criteria and by limiting the use of enhanced imaging techniques, without significantly changing diagnosis rates of key diseases; however, selectively restarting targeted angiography may help avoid autopsy in some cases.
  • Development and validation of artificial intelligence-based prescreening of large-bowel biopsies taken in the UK and Portugal: a retrospective cohort study

    Hero, Emily (2023-11)
    BACKGROUND: Histopathological examination is a crucial step in the diagnosis and treatment of many major diseases. Aiming to facilitate diagnostic decision making and improve the workload of pathologists, we developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based prescreening tool that analyses whole-slide images (WSIs) of large-bowel biopsies to identify typical, non-neoplastic, and neoplastic biopsies. METHODS: This retrospective cohort study was conducted with an internal development cohort of slides acquired from a hospital in the UK and three external validation cohorts of WSIs acquired from two hospitals in the UK and one clinical laboratory in Portugal. To learn the differential histological patterns from digitised WSIs of large-bowel biopsy slides, our proposed weakly supervised deep-learning model (Colorectal AI Model for Abnormality Detection [CAIMAN]) used slide-level diagnostic labels and no detailed cell or region-level annotations. The method was developed with an internal development cohort of 5054 biopsy slides from 2080 patients that were labelled with corresponding diagnostic categories assigned by pathologists. The three external validation cohorts, with a total of 1536 slides, were used for independent validation of CAIMAN. Each WSI was classified into one of three classes (ie, typical, atypical non-neoplastic, and atypical neoplastic). Prediction scores of image tiles were aggregated into three prediction scores for the whole slide, one for its likelihood of being typical, one for its likelihood of being non-neoplastic, and one for its likelihood of being neoplastic. The assessment of the external validation cohorts was conducted by the trained and frozen CAIMAN model. To evaluate model performance, we calculated area under the convex hull of the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROC), area under the precision-recall curve, and specificity compared with our previously published iterative draw and rank sampling (IDaRS) algorithm. We also generated heat maps and saliency maps to analyse and visualise the relationship between the WSI diagnostic labels and spatial features of the tissue microenvironment. The main outcome of this study was the ability of CAIMAN to accurately identify typical and atypical WSIs of colon biopsies, which could potentially facilitate automatic removing of typical biopsies from the diagnostic workload in clinics. FINDINGS: A randomly selected subset of all large bowel biopsies was obtained between Jan 1, 2012, and Dec 31, 2017. The AI training, validation, and assessments were done between Jan 1, 2021, and Sept 30, 2022. WSIs with diagnostic labels were collected between Jan 1 and Sept 30, 2022. Our analysis showed no statistically significant differences across prediction scores from CAIMAN for typical and atypical classes based on anatomical sites of the biopsy. At 0·99 sensitivity, CAIMAN (specificity 0·5592) was more accurate than an IDaRS-based weakly supervised WSI-classification pipeline (0·4629) in identifying typical and atypical biopsies on cross-validation in the internal development cohort (p<0·0001). At 0·99 sensitivity, CAIMAN was also more accurate than IDaRS for two external validation cohorts (p<0·0001), but not for a third external validation cohort (p=0·10). CAIMAN provided higher specificity than IDaRS at some high-sensitivity thresholds (0·7763 vs 0·6222 for 0·95 sensitivity, 0·7126 vs 0·5407 for 0·97 sensitivity, and 0·5615 vs 0·3970 for 0·99 sensitivity on one of the external validation cohorts) and showed high classification performance in distinguishing between neoplastic biopsies (AUROC 0·9928, 95% CI 0·9927-0·9929), inflammatory biopsies (0·9658, 0·9655-0·9661), and atypical biopsies (0·9789, 0·9786-0·9792). On the three external validation cohorts, CAIMAN had AUROC values of 0·9431 (95% CI 0·9165-0·9697), 0·9576 (0·9568-0·9584), and 0·9636 (0·9615-0·9657) for the detection of atypical biopsies. Saliency maps supported the representation of disease heterogeneity in model predictions and its association with relevant histological features. INTERPRETATION: CAIMAN, with its high sensitivity in detecting atypical large-bowel biopsies, might be a promising improvement in clinical workflow efficiency and diagnostic decision making in prescreening of typical colorectal biopsies. FUNDING: The Pathology Image Data Lake for Analytics, Knowledge and Education Centre of Excellence; the UK Government's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund; and Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation.
  • Identification and characterisation of a rare MTTP variant underlying hereditary non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

    Barwell, Julian; Gupta, Pankaj; Vemala, Vishwaraj; Grant, Allister (21/04/2023)
    Background & aims: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a complex trait with an estimated prevalence of 25% globally. We aimed to identify the genetic variant underlying a four-generation family with progressive NAFLD leading to cirrhosis, decompensation, and development of hepatocellular carcinoma in the absence of common risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Methods: Exome sequencing and genome comparisons were used to identify the likely causal variant. We extensively characterised the clinical phenotype and post-prandial metabolic responses of family members with the identified novel variant in comparison with healthy non-carriers and wild-type patients with NAFLD. Variant-expressing hepatocyte-like cells (HLCs) were derived from human-induced pluripotent stem cells generated from homozygous donor skin fibroblasts and restored to wild-type using CRISPR-Cas9. The phenotype was assessed using imaging, targeted RNA analysis, and molecular expression arrays. Results: We identified a rare causal variant c.1691T>C p.I564T (rs745447480) in MTTP, encoding microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP), associated with progressive NAFLD, unrelated to metabolic syndrome and without characteristic features of abetalipoproteinaemia. HLCs derived from a homozygote donor had significantly lower MTP activity and lower lipoprotein ApoB secretion than wild-type cells, while having similar levels of MTP mRNA and protein. Cytoplasmic triglyceride accumulation in HLCs triggered endoplasmic reticulum stress, secretion of pro-inflammatory mediators, and production of reactive oxygen species. Conclusions: We have identified and characterised a rare causal variant in MTTP, and homozygosity for MTTP p.I564T is associated with progressive NAFLD without any other manifestations of abetalipoproteinaemia. Our findings provide insights into mechanisms driving progressive NAFLD. Impact and implications: A rare genetic variant in the gene MTTP has been identified as responsible for the development of severe non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in a four-generation family with no typical disease risk factors. A cell line culture created harbouring this variant gene was characterised to understand how this genetic variation leads to a defect in liver cells, which results in accumulation of fat and processes that promote disease. This is now a useful model for studying the disease pathways and to discover new ways to treat common types of fatty liver disease.
  • Screening of normal endoscopic large bowel biopsies with interpretable graph learning: a retrospective study

    Hero, Emily (2023-05-12)
    Objective: To develop an interpretable artificial intelligence algorithm to rule out normal large bowel endoscopic biopsies, saving pathologist resources and helping with early diagnosis. Design: A graph neural network was developed incorporating pathologist domain knowledge to classify 6591 whole-slides images (WSIs) of endoscopic large bowel biopsies from 3291 patients (approximately 54% female, 46% male) as normal or abnormal (non-neoplastic and neoplastic) using clinically driven interpretable features. One UK National Health Service (NHS) site was used for model training and internal validation. External validation was conducted on data from two other NHS sites and one Portuguese site. Results: Model training and internal validation were performed on 5054 WSIs of 2080 patients resulting in an area under the curve-receiver operating characteristic (AUC-ROC) of 0.98 (SD=0.004) and AUC-precision-recall (PR) of 0.98 (SD=0.003). The performance of the model, named Interpretable Gland-Graphs using a Neural Aggregator (IGUANA), was consistent in testing over 1537 WSIs of 1211 patients from three independent external datasets with mean AUC-ROC=0.97 (SD=0.007) and AUC-PR=0.97 (SD=0.005). At a high sensitivity threshold of 99%, the proposed model can reduce the number of normal slides to be reviewed by a pathologist by approximately 55%. IGUANA also provides an explainable output highlighting potential abnormalities in a WSI in the form of a heatmap as well as numerical values associating the model prediction with various histological features. Conclusion: The model achieved consistently high accuracy showing its potential in optimising increasingly scarce pathologist resources. Explainable predictions can guide pathologists in their diagnostic decision-making and help boost their confidence in the algorithm, paving the way for its future clinical adoption.
  • Airborne transmission of respiratory viruses including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2

    Tang, Julian (2023-03-06)
    Purpose of review: The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has had a wide-ranging and profound impact on how we think about the transmission of respiratory viruses This review outlines the basis on which we should consider all respiratory viruses as aerosol-transmissible infections, in order to improve our control of these pathogens in both healthcare and community settings. Recent findings: We present recent studies to support the aerosol transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, and some older studies to demonstrate the aerosol transmissibility of other, more familiar seasonal respiratory viruses. Summary: Current knowledge on how these respiratory viruses are transmitted, and the way we control their spread, is changing. We need to embrace these changes to improve the care of patients in hospitals and care homes including others who are vulnerable to severe disease in community settings.
  • Sodium nitrite poisoning: A series of 20 fatalities in which post-mortem blood nitrite and nitrate concentrations are reported

    Hikin, Laura; Morley, Stephen; Smith, Paul (2023-02-24)
    Sodium nitrite has several industrial applications however its accidental or intentional ingestion has been associated with severe toxicity and death. We present a series of 20 cases over 2 years in which evidence of sodium nitrite ingestion was found at the scene and supported by biochemical analysis of post-mortem blood nitrite and nitrate levels. Routine toxicological screening was performed on post-mortem blood samples received at University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) NHS Trust, including ethanol analysis by headspace gas chromatography-flame ionisation detection (HS GC-FID), drug screening by high resolution accurate mass-mass spectrometry (HRAM-MS) and confirmatory drug quantitation by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Cases in which the history indicated the possibility of nitrite salts present at the scene, purchase of a suicide kit or a dusky-ash appearance of skin on post-mortem were referred to a specialist laboratory for nitrite and nitrate analysis. Analysis was based upon the gas-phase chemiluminescent reaction between nitric oxide (NO) and ozone; NO levels were determined using an NOA 280A, Sievers NO analyser. Twenty post-mortem cases in which sodium nitrite ingestion was the most probable cause of death were reported between January 2020 and February 2022; mean age was 31 years (range 14-49) with 9/20 (45%) female. 16/20 (80%) of cases had a history of depression and / or mental health issues. In half of the cases, anti-depressant / anti-psychotic drugs were prescribed; these drugs were detected in 8/20 (40%) cases. Ethanol was detected in 4/20 (20%) cases and anti-emetic drugs in 7/20 (35%) cases; anti-emetic drugs may be used to aid retention of sodium nitrite. Illicit drugs (amphetamine, cannabis and cocaine) were present in 3/20 cases (15%). Nitrite was found to be elevated in all but one case (95%), and nitrate was elevated in 17/20 (85%) cases. This paper highlights a surge in numbers of deaths across England and Wales due to sodium nitrite toxicity. Although, nitrite poisoning remains a rare cause of death, it is worthwhile considering its use in individuals with suicidal ideation given its unregulated availability online. The detection and quantitation of nitrite and nitrate requires specialised, highly reliable methodology currently only available in research laboratories. Implication of sodium nitrite ingestion also relies heavily upon circumstantial evidence combined with quantification. The provision of a quantitative nitrite / nitrate analytical service greatly assists in determining the cause of death in these cases.
  • Exhaled Pneumocystis jirovecii output and detection of asymptomatic exhalation by facemask sampling in HIV-uninfected, immunocompromised patients

    Holmes, Christopher; Koo, Sharon; Perera, Nelun; Barer, Michael R (2022-12-12)
    Background: Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PJP) transmission is poorly defined. Previous studies have sampled air of rooms occupied by HIV-infected patients with PJP, while natural and direct exhalations of HIV-uninfected subjects remain under-investigated. Here, clinical facemasks were used to examine and quantify potential P. jirovecii exhalations from HIV-uninfected patients with suspected PJP and to determine whether pathogen exhalation was definable clinically or radiologically. Methods: Forty-five patients in Leicester (England), highly suspected of having PJP based on European Conference on Infections in Leukaemia (ECIL-5) guidelines, each wore one facemask carrying a gelatine/PVA sampling matrix for 1 h while respiring normally. Mask contamination with P. jirovecii was assessed using a modified quantitative polymerase chain reaction targeting mitochondrial large subunit (MtLSU). Radiological findings on chest X-ray (CXR) and computed tomography (CT) were graded and analysed for correlation with P. jirovecii signals alongside relevant clinical and laboratory findings. Results: P. jirovecii was detected in seven of 20 patients diagnosed with PJP and three of 19 patients with suspected but undiagnosed PJP. The median captured signal was 8.59 × 104 MtLSU copies/mask (interquartile range (IQR) = 3.01 × 105-1.81 × 104). Blood β-D-glucan test results correlated with the mask detection data (r = 0.65; P<0.0001) but other clinical indices and radiological features did not. Five of the 10 P. jirovecii-exhalers exhibited normal CXR with a median exhalation burden 1.28 × 105 copies/mask (IQR = 1.51 × 105-2.27 × 104). Two P. jirovecii-exhalers (7.64 × 104 copies/mask) were asymptomatic. Conclusion: P. jirovecii was exhaled sufficiently during normal respiration to be detectable in facemasks worn by HIV-uninfected patients. Neither clinical nor radiological features correlated with P. jirovecii exhalation.
  • Development of loop-mediated isothermal amplification rapid diagnostic assays for the detection of Klebsiella pneumoniae and carbapenemase genes in clinical samples

    Jenkins, David (2022-02-09)
    Klebsiella pneumoniae is an important pathogenic bacterium commonly associated with human healthcare and community-acquired infections. In recent years, K. pneumoniae has become a significant threat to global public and veterinary health, because of its high rates of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Early diagnosis of K. pneumoniae infection and detection of any associated AMR would help to accelerate directed therapy and reduce the risk of the emergence of multidrug-resistant isolates. In this study, we identified three target genes (yhaI, epsL, and xcpW) common to K. pneumoniae isolates from both China and Europe and designed loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assays for the detection of K. pneumoniae in clinical samples. We also designed LAMP assays for the detection of five AMR genes commonly associated with K. pneumoniae. The LAMP assays were validated on a total of 319 type reference strains and clinical isolates of diverse genetic backgrounds, in addition to 40 clinical human sputum samples, and were shown to be reliable, highly specific, and sensitive. For the K. pneumoniae-specific LAMP assay, the calculated sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values (comparison with culture and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry) were all 100% on clinical isolates and, respectively, of 100%, 91%, and 90%, and 100% when tested on clinical sputum samples, while being significantly faster than the reference methods. For the bla KPC and other carbapenemases' LAMP assays, the concordance between the LAMP results and the references methods (susceptibility tests) was 100%, on both pure cultures (n = 125) and clinical samples (n = 18). In conclusion, we developed highly sensitive and specific LAMP assays for the clinical identification of K. pneumoniae and detection of carbapenem resistance.
  • Operation Moonshot: rapid translation of a SARS-CoV-2 targeted peptide immunoaffinity liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry test from research into routine clinical use

    Lane, Dan; Gupta, Pankaj (2022-11-17)
    Objectives: During 2020, the UK's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) established the Moonshot programme to fund various diagnostic approaches for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen behind the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass spectrometry was one of the technologies proposed to increase testing capacity. Methods: Moonshot funded a multi-phase development programme, bringing together experts from academia, industry and the NHS to develop a state-of-the-art targeted protein assay utilising enrichment and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to capture and detect low levels of tryptic peptides derived from SARS-CoV-2 virus. The assay relies on detection of target peptides, ADETQALPQRK (ADE) and AYNVTQAFGR (AYN), derived from the nucleocapsid protein of SARS-CoV-2, measurement of which allowed the specific, sensitive, and robust detection of the virus from nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs. The diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of LC-MS/MS was compared with reverse transcription quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) via a prospective study. Results: Analysis of NP swabs (n=361) with a median RT-qPCR quantification cycle (Cq) of 27 (range 16.7-39.1) demonstrated diagnostic sensitivity of 92.4% (87.4-95.5), specificity of 97.4% (94.0-98.9) and near total concordance with RT-qPCR (Cohen's Kappa 0.90). Excluding Cq>32 samples, sensitivity was 97.9% (94.1-99.3), specificity 97.4% (94.0-98.9) and Cohen's Kappa 0.95. Conclusions: This unique collaboration between academia, industry and the NHS enabled development, translation, and validation of a SARS-CoV-2 method in NP swabs to be achieved in 5 months. This pilot provides a model and pipeline for future accelerated development and implementation of LC-MS/MS protein/peptide assays into the routine clinical laboratory.
  • Discriminatory ability of gas chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry to identify patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and predict prognosis

    Nazareth, Joshua; Pan, Daniel; Bird, Paul; Tang, Julian; Williams, Caroline; Pareek, Manish; Sahota, Amandip (2022-10-01)
    Background: Rapid diagnostic and prognostic tests for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are urgently required. We aimed to evaluate the diagnostic and prognostic ability of breath analysis using gas chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry (GC-IMS) in hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Methods: Between February and May 2021, we took 1 breath sample for analysis using GC-IMS from participants who were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, participants who were admitted to the hospital for other respiratory infections, and symptom-free controls, at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, United Kingdom. Demographic, clinical, and radiological data, including requirement for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) ventilation as a marker for severe disease in the COVID-19 group, were collected. Results: A total of 113 participants were recruited into the study. Seventy-two (64%) were diagnosed with COVID-19, 20 (18%) were diagnosed with another respiratory infection, and 21 (19%) were healthy controls. Differentiation between participants with COVID-19 and those with other respiratory tract infections with GC-IMS was highly accurate (sensitivity/specificity, 0.80/0.88; area under the receiver operating characteristics curve [AUROC], 0.85; 95% CI, 0.74-0.96). GC-IMS was also moderately accurate at identifying those who subsequently required CPAP (sensitivity/specificity, 0.62/0.80; AUROC, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.53-0.87). Conclusions: GC-IMS shows promise as both a diagnostic tool and a predictor of prognosis in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and should be assessed further in larger studies.
  • Performing under pressure: Insights into the diagnostic testing burden at a UK national health service clinical virology laboratory during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

    Bird, Paul; Taylor, Georgina; Cafferata, Jessica; Gardiner, Judi; McMurray, Claire; Fletcher, Oliver; Toovey, Oliver; Holmes, Christopher; Tang, Julian (2022-10-12)
    UK National Health Service (NHS) Clinical Virology Departments provide a repertoire of tests on clinical samples to detect the presence of viral genomic material or host immune responses to viral infection. In December 2019, a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) emerged which quickly developed into a global pandemic; NHS laboratories responded rapidly to upscale their testing capabilities. To date, there is little information on the impact of increased SARS-CoV-2 screening on non-SARS-CoV-2 testing within NHS laboratories. This report details the virology test requests received by the Leicester-based NHS Virology laboratory from January 2018 to May 2022. Data show that in spite of a dramatic increase in screening, along with multiple logistic and staffing issues, the Leicester Virology Department was mostly able to maintain the same level of service for non-respiratory virus testing while meeting the new increase in SARS-CoV-2 testing.
  • Prospective surveillance of respiratory infections in British Antarctic survey bases during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Bird, Paul; Odedra, Mina; McMurray, Claire; Holmes, Christopher; Koo, Sharon; Tang, Julian (2022-10-10)
    Background: The British Antarctic bases offer a semiclosed environment for assessing the transmission and persistence of seasonal respiratory viruses. Methods: Weekly swabbing was performed for respiratory pathogen surveillance (including SARS-CoV-2), at 2 British Antarctic Survey bases, during 2020: King Edward Point (KEP, 30 June to 29 September, 9 participants, 124 swabs) and Rothera (9 May to 6 June, 27 participants, 127 swabs). Symptom questionnaires were collected for any newly symptomatic cases that presented during this weekly swabbing period. Results: At KEP, swabs tested positive for non-SARS-CoV-2 seasonal coronavirus (2), adenovirus (1), parainfluenza 3 (1), and respiratory syncytial virus B (1). At Rothera, swabs tested positive for non-SARS-CoV-2 seasonal coronavirus (3), adenovirus (2), parainfluenza 4 (1), and human metapneumovirus (1). All bacterial agents identified were considered to be colonizers and not pathogenic. Conclusions: At KEP, the timeline indicated that the parainfluenza 3 and adenovirus infections could have been linked to some of the symptomatic cases that presented. For the other viruses, the only other possible sources were the visiting ship crew members. At Rothera, the single symptomatic case presented too early for this to be linked to the subsequent viral detections, and the only other possible source could have been a single nonparticipating staff member.
  • Prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in migrants in Europe in the era of universal health coverage

    Bird, Paul (2022-08-26)
    Some subpopulations of migrants to Europe are generally healthier than the population of the country of settlement, but are at increased risk of key infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV, and viral hepatitis, as well as under- immunisation. Infection screening programmes across Europe work in disease silos with a focus on individual diseases at the time of arrival. We argue that European health-care practitioners and policy makers would benefit from developing a framework of universal health care for migrants, which proactively offers early testing and vaccinations by delivering multi-disease testing and catch-up vaccination programmes integrated within existing health systems. Such interventions should be codeveloped with migrant populations to overcome barriers faced in accessing services. Aligning policies with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidance for health care for migrants, community-based preventive health-care programmes should be delivered as part of universal health care. However, effective implementation needs appropriate funding, and to be underpinned by high-quality evidence.
  • A rapid RT-LAMP SARS-CoV-2 screening assay for collapsing asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission

    Holmes, Christopher; Bird, Paul (2022-09-01)
    Purpose: To demonstrate the diagnostic performance of rapid SARS-CoV-2 RT-LAMP assays, comparing the performance of genomic versus sub-genomic sequence target with subsequent application in an asymptomatic screening population. Methods: RT-LAMP diagnostic specificity (DSe) and sensitivity (DSe) was determined using 114 RT-PCR clinically positive and 88 RT-PCR clinically negative swab samples processed through the diagnostic RT-PCR service within the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. A swab-based RT-LAMP SARS-CoV-2 screening programme was subsequently made available to all staff and students at the University of Leicester (Autumn 2020), implemented to ISO 15189:2012 standards using NHS IT infrastructure and supported by University Hospital Leicester via confirmatory NHS diagnostic laboratory testing of RT-LAMP 'positive' samples. Results: Validation samples reporting a Ct < 20 were detected at 100% DSe and DSp, reducing to 95% DSe (100% DSp) for all samples reporting a Ct < 30 (both genomic dual sub-genomic assays). Advisory screening identified nine positive cases in 1680 symptom free individuals (equivalent to 540 cases per 100,000) with results reported back to participants and feed into national statistics within 48 hours. Conclusion: This work demonstrates the utility of a rapid RT-LAMP assay for collapsing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in an asymptomatic screening population.

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