Measurements of lipids and lipoproteins in the clinical laboratory have become increasingly important because of their predictive association with cardiovascular diseases, especially coronary artery disease. The US National Institutes of Health-sponsored National Cholesterol Education Program and counterparts in other countries have developed national consensus guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease which provide risk cut-points and define use of the lipid/lipoprotein analytes in case finding and therapy. Total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides are measured as positive risk factors and high density lipoprotein cholesterol as an inverse risk factor for coronary artery disease. A National Cholesterol Education Program-sponsored expert laboratory panel has developed guidelines for measurements with requisite analytical performance targets for total error and corresponding precision and bias. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have established reference methods for total and high density lipoprotein cholesterol and for triglycerides, with a method for low density lipoprotein cholesterol in development. Standardization programs for research laboratories and a Cholesterol Reference Method Laboratory Network for diagnostic manufacturers and clinical laboratories provide reliable access and documentation of traceability to accepted reference methods.
Methods for the lipid/lipoprotein analytes have improved dramatically in recent years and, coupled with improved chemistry analyzer systems and more attention to standardization by manufacturers, offer considerable improvement in analytical performance. Fully automated homogeneous assays for high density lipoprotein cholesterol and newer similar assays for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol have potential for better precision as well as more convenient and cost-effective measurements. Attention to pre-analytical sources of variation is also important in making reliable classification of patients.
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