The following is a statement from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) about the unreliability of IgeneX testing:
February 14, 2001
Reliability of Blood and Urine Tests for Lyme Disease
In 1996, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded a five-year contract to the New England Medical Center (NEMC), Boston, MA, to study how chronic Lyme disease develops and how to improve its treatment. The proposed study included an evaluation of old and new tests used to diagnose and manage Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. The investigators included this evaluation because diagnostic tests for Lyme disease have been controversial due to problems with their ability to detect evidence of the Lyme bacterium and to distinguish it from closely related bacteria; the lack of standardized materials used to perform the tests; and variation within and among laboratories performing the tests.
In the February 15 issue of the American Journal of Medicine, Mark S. Klempner, M.D., of NEMC and his scientific collaborators in New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., report their findings about the reliability of two Lyme disease tests: an IgG Western blot blood test and the Lyme urine antigen test, or LUAT. The IgG Western blot is a licensed test used to screen blood samples for antibodies to the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. The LUAT detects proteins derived from the bacterium in urine samples. Although the LUAT has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a valid diagnostic test for Lyme disease, it is widely used, and the NIAID Lyme Disease Advisory Panel asked that it be further evaluated.
To perform the IgG Western blot, the investigators collected blood samples from 21 patients who met the case definition of Lyme disease established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All patients had been treated for acute Lyme disease symptoms with recommended antibiotics, but they had continued to suffer symptoms of fatigue, muscle and joint pains, or neurocognitive problems for at least six months thereafter. These 21 blood samples were analyzed and compared with those from 10 healthy volunteers who had no history or symptoms of Lyme disease.
Testing was performed at NEMC, a laboratory recognized by CDC as qualified to do so. In accordance with current recommendations, the IgG test was considered positive if it revealed 5 or more of the 10 bands (indicative of antibodies) deemed significant for Lyme disease.
Duplicate fractions of blood from the 21 patients with chronic Lyme disease symptoms were tested at separate times. The laboratory performing the test was not aware of the results from the previous test. On initial testing, two-thirds (14/21) of the patient samples tested positive for Lyme disease by standard IgG Western blot criteria; the remainder tested negative. The same results were obtained when the duplicate fractions of the same 21 samples were tested. All samples from the same 10 healthy volunteers tested negative.
The LUAT was performed by the test’s manufacturer (IgeneX, Palo Alto, CA) on urine samples taken from 10 healthy volunteers who had no history or symptoms of Lyme disease. Each urine sample was divided into five equal fractions, or replicates, so that a total of 50 individual LUATs were performed. The LUAT results, unlike the highly reproducible IgG Western blot results, varied markedly. At least one urine fraction from each of the 10 samples examined tested false-positive. Two urine samples consistently showed false-positive results. Replicates for the eight remaining samples examined were a mixture of positive and negative values, making it impossible to conclude that they were positive or negative.
The study results indicate that the IgG Western blot is a highly reproducible test for detecting antibodies to the Lyme disease bacterium. These antibodies indicate prior exposure to B. burgdorferi. In contrast, the variable results obtained with the LUAT indicate that it is not a reliable test for evaluating patients with active or suspected Lyme disease.
Although not part of the published report, the investigators also examined the reliability of standard tests for three other tick-borne diseases — tick-borne encephalitis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis — and found all three to be highly reproducible when conducted in experienced laboratories.
MS Klempner et al. Intralaboratory reliability of serologic and urine testing for Lyme disease. American Journal of Medicine 110(3): 217-19 (2001).
Dr. Jesse Goodman, MD, MPH: The Diagnosis of Lyme Disease: Good News, Bad News (commentary on the above-discussed Klempner study)
American Journal of Medicine: Correspondence regarding the above-discussed Klempner study
Fallon BA, et al. A comparison of lyme disease serologic test results from 4 laboratories in patients with persistent symptoms after antibiotic treatment. Clin Infect Dis. 2014;59(12):1705-1710.
Dattwyler RJ, Arnaboldi PM. Comparison of lyme disease serologic assays and lyme specialty laboratories. Clin Infect Dis. 2014;59(12):1711-1713.
LymeScience: How chronic Lyme recruits followers
Patrick DM, et al. Lyme Disease Diagnosed by Alternative Methods: A Phenotype Similar to That of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Clin Infect Dis. 2015;61(7):1084-1091.
San Francisco Chronicle: Agency could shut lab tied to S.F. medical examiner
San Francisco Gate: Peninsula lab gets a clean bill of health
San Francisco Gate: S.F. coroner’s aide sues over his ouster
New York Times: Unproved Lyme Disease Tests Prompt Warnings
Dr. Mark Crislip: Lyme Testimony
Forbes: Lyme Inc
Beth Daley and colleagues writing for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and Boston Globe, resulting in Daley winning a journalism award:
- Can you trust Lyme Disease tests?
- Testing labs agree to pay $8.5 million to settle U.S. false billing claims
- Many tests to diagnose Lyme, but no proof they work
- Study finds cancer diagnoses delayed because of chronic Lyme misdiagnosis
- Drawing the lines in the Lyme disease battle
Table 2 from Klempner’s evaluation of IgeneX testing:
Results of Lyme Urine Antigen Testing in 10 Control Subjects (A-J) without Lyme Disease
|Sample||Test Interpretation||Antigen Level*|
The SDs of the antigen levels in the 10 subjects were as follows: subject A = 136 ng/mL, subject B = 150 ng/mL, subject C = 39 ng/mL, subject D = 91 ng/mL, subject E = 51 ng/mL, subject F = 18 ng/mL, subject G = 44 ng/mL, subject H = 21 ng/mL, subject I = 62 ng/mL, subject J = 39 ng/mL.