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Lab Invest. 2016 Sep;96(9):1016-25. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.2016.73. Epub 2016 Jun 27.

Automated measurement of estrogen receptor in breast cancer: a comparison of fluorescent and chromogenic methods of measurement.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.


Whereas FDA-approved methods of assessment of estrogen receptor (ER) are 'fit for purpose', they represent a 30-year-old technology. New quantitative methods, both chromogenic and fluorescent, have been developed and studies have shown that these methods increase the accuracy of assessment of ER. Here, we compare three methods of ER detection and assessment on two retrospective tissue microarray (TMA) cohorts of breast cancer patients: estimates of percent nuclei positive by pathologists and by Aperio's nuclear algorithm (standard chromogenic immunostaining), and immunofluorescence as quantified with the automated quantitative analysis (AQUA) method of quantitative immunofluorescence (QIF). Reproducibility was excellent (R(2)>0.95) between users for both automated analysis methods, and the Aperio and QIF scoring results were also highly correlated, despite the different detection systems. The subjective readings show lower levels of reproducibility and a discontinuous, bimodal distribution of scores not seen by either mechanized method. Kaplan-Meier analysis of 10-year disease-free survival was significant for each method (Pathologist, P=0.0019; Aperio, P=0.0053, AQUA, P=0.0026); however, there were discrepancies in patient classification in 19 out of 233 cases analyzed. Out of these, 11 were visually positive by both chromogenic and fluorescent detection. In 10 cases, the Aperio nuclear algorithm labeled the nuclei as negative; in 1 case, the AQUA score was just under the cutoff for positivity (determined by an Index TMA). In contrast, 8 out of 19 discrepant cases had clear nuclear positivity by fluorescence that was unable to be visualized by chromogenic detection, perhaps because of low positivity masked by the hematoxylin counterstain. These results demonstrate that automated systems enable objective, precise quantification of ER. Furthermore, immunofluorescence detection offers the additional advantage of a signal that cannot be masked by a counterstaining agent. These data support the usage of automated methods for measurement of this and other biomarkers that may be used in companion diagnostic tests.

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