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To Catch the Swap

Some pathology lab mix-ups could be caught through DNA fingerprinting, the New York Times reports.

DNA fingerprinting offered by Strand Diagnostics involves doctors collecting a cheek swab from patients, which is sent to the company with a barcode that identifies the patient, the Times says. That same barcode is used to label the patient's biopsy. If analysis of the biopsy uncovers cancer, then patient cells are sent to Strand to make sure their DNA matches that of the cheek swab. If they don't, then that indicates a sample swap might have occurred.

But while lab-mix ups do occur, the percentage of such errors isn't high, according to the Times. One estimate that drew on some 10,000 biopsies taken during a large clinical trial found that 27 were mislabeled, while of 6,733 blood samples taken, 0.5 percent were switched. A separate estimate based on Strand's database indicates that 0.26 percent of samples were switched, the paper adds.

Because of their low occurrence and the cost of DNA barcoding, not all labs are adopting the process. Sanford Siegel of Chesapeake Urology tells the Times that he'd felt that way — until a patient who was the victim of a lab mix up threatened legal action.