Systematic evaluation of PAXgene® tissue fixation for the histopathological and molecular study of lung cancer
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Whilst adequate for most existing pathological tests, formalin is generally considered a poor DNA preservative and use of alternative fixatives may prove advantageous for molecular testing of tumour material; an increasingly common approach to identify targetable driver mutations in lung cancer patients. We collected paired PAXgene®tissue-fixed and formalin-fixed samples of block-sized tumour and lung parenchyma, Temno-needle core tumour biopsies and fine needle tumour aspirates (FNAs) from non-small cell lung cancer resection specimens. Traditionally processed formalin fixed paraffin wax embedded (FFPE) samples were compared to paired PAXgene® tissue fixed paraffin-embedded (PFPE) samples. We evaluated suitability for common laboratory tests (H&E staining and immunohistochemistry) and performance for downstream molecular investigations relevant to lung cancer ,including RT-PCR and next generation DNA sequencing (NGS). Adequate and comparable H&E staining was seen in all sample types and nuclear staining was preferable in PAXgene® fixed Temno tumour biopsies and tumour FNA samples. Immuno histochemical staining was broadly comparable. PFPE samples enabled greater yields of less-fragmented DNA than FFPE comparators. PFPE samples were also superior for PCR and NGS performance, both in terms of quality control metrics and for variant calling. Critically we identified a greater number of genetic variants in the epidermal growth factor receptor gene when using PFPE samples and the Ingenuity® Variant Analysis pipeline. In summary, PFPE samples are adequate for histopathological diagnosis and suitable for the majority of existing laboratory tests. PAXgene® fixation is superior for DNA and RNA integrity, particularly in low-yield samples and facilitates improved NGS performance, including the detection of actionable lung cancer mutations for precision medicine in lung cancer samples.