May 2020

COVID-19: How the National Measurement Laboratory supports standards to fight COVID19

This World Metrology Day, the National Measurement Laboratory at LGC celebrates the work of our metrologists during the current pandemic.

Accurate measurement underpins the science used across society, in medicines, food, engineering works and so much more, and metrologists work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure these measurements can be performed confidently across industries.

Documentary standards provide an agreed “best way of doing things”, based on expert knowledge and best practice from across the world. Thousands of experts give significant time and effort each year to develop these voluntary technical agreements. They can cover almost anything, from protecting the safety of our food, to producing reference materials, to medical devices. The availability of standards helps increase competition and foster innovation, supporting confidence in data and the decisions that they are based upon.

A recently completed European project (EMPIR 16BioSIP01, Bio-stand) for improved bio-analytical measurements, led by the National Measurement Laboratory at LGC, has helped develop three new international (International Organization for Standardization, ISO) standards to support the counting of cells and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA).

Accurate detection and measurement of cells and nucleic acids underpins many different areas of modern medicine, including monitoring circulating tumour cells during cancer treatment and determining the bacterial or viral load in a patient, of particular importance with the current worldwide COVID-19 crisis. Measurement of cells and nucleic acids can also support the food industry, including monitoring genetically modified organisms and identifying allergens in foods, and environmental sustainability, by increasing our understanding of bio-diversity.

The standards developed through this project address the measurement needs identified by the biotechnology (ISO TC 276) and clinical diagnostics (ISO TC 212) communities. They will allow healthcare providers, in vitro diagnostic users and manufacturers, and research and development labs to ensure regulatory compliance, improve efficacy of products and ultimately improve patient safety. They will help mitigate the risks associated with the use of inaccurate and unreliable tests and ensure that the public can have confidence in any clinical, environmental or industrial decisions that are made based on these measurements.

One of these standards has recently been made freely available by ISO to support the development and implementation of effective COVID-19 testing. This standard (ISO20395:2019) has, amongst others, has already been central in the implementation of the quality assurance for UK field labs testing for coronavirus.

The European Commission also highlighted this work as one of the research and innovation projects and initiatives that will help tackle the spread of coronavirus and preparedness for other outbreaks.

Watch the video above to learn more about the importance of standardisation in diagnostics.


ISO 20395 – addressing methods used for the quantification of specific nucleic acid sequences using dPCR or qPCR

ISO 20391 (Part 1 & 2) – addressing approaches to cell coutning for biotechnology

ISO 17822-2 – addressing in vitro examination procedures for the detection and identification of microbial pathogens