For over 20 years, APHL has worked with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make quality the norm in the nation's molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance, PulseNet. The network detects clusters of foodborne pathogens, allowing public health officials to intervene early to control and prevent outbreaks.
As PulseNet transitions to a new method for detecting foodborne pathogens, quality is, as always, a top concern. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is gradually replacing pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) to deliver faster, more detailed test results. With the new method comes heightened attention to the network's quality assurance program, which ensures consistent, high quality results and reproducible data.
The PulseNet quality assurance (QA) program brings laboratory scientists and their institutions together in a kind of "Quality Olympics," managed by APHL. Participants must train, pass qualifying events and clear a high bar for accuracy to earn the right to conduct PulseNet testing.
This Olympics begins with mastery of training and key resources. APHL, in collaboration with CDC, offers PulseNet bench trainings in protocols and analytical methods, and maintains a quality control manual detailing laboratory methods, database use, communication processes and many other standard operating procedures.
PulseNet scientists also must pass organism-specific certifications before they can submit data to PulseNet national databases. APHL likewise organizes and administers this program. Following a review and approval process, APHL and CDC work together to provide critical feedback as needed to participating scientists. Those who pass are certified so long as they remain at the same laboratory, and the institution successfully completes proficiency testing.
In addition, PulseNet laboratories must complete organism-specific annual proficiency testing—two rounds for PFGE, one for WGS—to demonstrate their testing skills. APHL also coordinates this program, organizing, evaluating and reporting on the testing, and notifying laboratories of their status. For institutions that do not clear the high bar required for PulseNet testing, APHL, CDC and/or the PulseNet area laboratories provide coaching, additional training and support until these laboratories can achieve the high quality results required to pass proficiency testing.
in 2017, APHL advanced PulseNet proficiency testing one step further by administering the first, harmonized WGS proficiency test to both PulseNet and GenomeTrakr, the FDA's network for tracking foodborne pathogens from non-human sources using WGS data. This harmonization saved resources and bench time during a period when many laboratories were busy implementing WGS.
For more information about the PulseNet quality assurance program, contact Jennifer Adams, lead specialist, PulseNet QA, at email@example.com.