Sep 21

Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis: the need for speed

Every three seconds there is a new case of dementia somewhere in the world.

Dementia is the broad term for brain disorders that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion, and is a debilitating and currently incurable condition that affects 10.5 million people in Europe and over 46 million people globally. With an aging population this figure is set to rise to over 130 million by 2050.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which represents about 70 % of all cases. To help patients access the most effective treatments and sources of support, early diagnosis is crucial. However, recent studies suggest only half of people with Alzheimer’s have been formally diagnosed and these cases are often only identified in the advanced stages through highly invasive tests such as lumbar punctures.

The key reasons for this are the lack of accuracy involved in the measurement of biomarkers currently used to indicate Alzheimer’s disease and the absence of alternative clinically-approved and non-invasive tools to diagnose and monitor disease progression.

In our role as the National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, scientists at LGC have recently started work on two European metrology projects that aim to address these critical measurement needs.

EMPIR_neurometNeuroMET (led by LGC) is a multidisciplinary project which combines the diverse expertise of a number of National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) together with clinicians and academics. This project aims to overcome the measurement challenges currently constraining clinical innovation and uptake in neurodegenerative disease diagnosis and treatment. It will challenge the performance of a number of non-invasive/minimally invasive approaches for early diagnostic and drug therapeutic monitoring, such as magnetic resonance imaging and blood analysis. Within Neuromet reference methods for protein biomarkers will be developed and their utility in protein standardisation of clinical measurements will be addressed. Finally, the application of novel statistical approaches to integrate clinical analytical and assessment data will enable for the first time the development of validated person centred outcome measures. By working directly with clinicians, the tools and protocols developed will be ready for direct implementation in partnering hospital laboratories and back into the clinic.

EMPIR_remindRecent studies strongly suggest that metal ions such as iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), or aluminium (Al) are directly or indirectly involved in the development of Alzheimer’s. In collaboration with European NMIs, clinicians and academics, ReMIND (in which LGC is a project partner) aims to understand the role of metals and metal containing bio-molecules in Alzheimer’s development. This project will develop reference measurement procedures to provide measurement comparability between laboratories for established and potential biomarkers in cerebral spinal fluid, plasma and brain tissue using high accuracy inorganic mass spectrometry and Raman spectrometry approaches. This work will support reliable, comparable measurements in current diagnostic tests, enable extended studies into the uptake, metabolism and transport of metals to the brain to be performed, and further the development of population-based screening through blood testing.

The research developed under these two projects will support the development of earlier and more accurate methods for the diagnosis and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease. This will improve the quality of life both for those affected and their families and ultimately reduce the significant global economic burden of Alzheimer’s care, estimated to be over US$1 trillion by 2018.

To find out more about these projects, contact the NMS Helpdesk.

Find out more about other European projects LGC is involved with.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise dementia awareness and challenge stigma. #RememberMe #WAM



Sep 08

How certain can you be: the need for measurement uncertainty

Thousands of routine measurements are made each day. These measurements vary from clinicians making medical diagnoses, to providing evidence to protect our borders, to safeguarding the quality of our water. However, to have a real understanding of the value of any of these measurements you need to know both its quantity and its quality, i.e. how good the measurement really is and can you trust it?

This is demonstrated through the measurement uncertainty associated with each measurement.

Whenever a measurement is made there will always be some level of uncertainty or doubt about the result obtained. This is unavoidable and not due to mistakes in the application of the measurement method, but to the fact that all measurements are subject to variable factors which will contribute to the uncertainty in the result.

For example, when asked how long it takes to get home from work, you might say ‘about 45 minutes’. The ‘about’ indicates that you know the answer is not exactly 45 min – the true answer may lie anywhere between 40 and 50 minutes and depends on the traffic, the weather and a host of other factors. The range associated with the measurement (±5 minutes in this case) is the measurement uncertainty.

Measurement uncertainty allows individual measurement results to be meaningfully compared, for example to see whether a clinical limit has been exceeded or whether results produced before and after a drug intervention are genuinely different. In some cases, such as a quick screening test, a large measurement uncertainty may be acceptable but in others, for example monitoring the amount of a chemotherapy drug present in the body, a small measurement uncertainty is necessary. The impact on human health, the environment and the economy can be significant if measurement uncertainty is not sufficiently accounted for.

mu_thumbnail-of-flyer-1Recently clinical laboratories in the UK adopted the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) standard 15189 (Medical laboratories – Requirements for quality and competence) which stipulates that measurement uncertainty is to be calculated for each clinical assay.

As the UK National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, we have considerable expertise in this field, and have been a leading exponent of calculating, and importantly reporting, measurement uncertainty for all quantitative measurement for many years. In this role we are providing support for clinical laboratories and informing the clinical community of the fundamentals of measurement uncertainty and will be running a specific training course in November to address this challenging topic.


If you have any further questions about measurement uncertainty or any of the courses, presentations or guides below please contact us.


Training courses

Measurement uncertainty for clinical testing laboratories, specific one-off training event for laboratory analysts and quality managers seeking accreditation to ISO 15189, 2 November 2016

Evaluating measurement uncertainty for chemical testing laboratories, scheduled training course on measurement uncertainty training in line with ISO principles, 12 October 2016

Find further information on LGC training courses on our website or contact us directly.


Upcoming presentations

BMSS Introduction to Mass Spectrometry Short Course, Eastbourne, UK, An introduction to small molecule quantitation, Chris Mussell, 13 September 2016 – this will contain a short section on measurement uncertainty

WADA-BIPM Symposium: Standards and Metrology for Anti-Doping Analysis, BIPM, Paris, France, “Bottom up” (GUM) approach to MU assignment for organic analytes, Chris Mussell, 28-29 September 2016

Waters UK Clinical Users Meeting, British Library, UK, Eschewing Obfuscation – Measurement Uncertainty & Mass Spectrometry, Chris Mussell, 19 October 2016

Advances in Clinical Analysis 2016, Chromatographic Society meeting, Burlington House, London, Measurement Uncertainty & Mass Spectrometry, Chris Mussell, 30 November 2016


Guides and webinars

Mass spectrometry and measurement uncertainty, Chris Mussell & Simon Cowen, webinar outlining basic concepts and approaches to measurement uncertainty estimation with examples

Evaluating measurement uncertainty in clinical chemistry, guide produced by LGC under the National Measurment System (NMS) that outlines ‘top-down’ approaches to uncertainty demonstrated by clinical analysis case studies

Guide to the expression of uncertainty in measurement, guide produced by the International Bureau for Weights and Measures (BIPM)

Jul 29

Three peaks challenge update

3peaksThis year we’re raising funds for our corporate charity, MND (Motor Neurone Disease) Association, whose vision is a world free from MND.

While not quite the ice bucket challenge seen in the news this week, in one week’s time some of our team at LGC will be completing their own fundraising event. Fourteen of LGC’S Forensics & Security team are taking part in a Three Peaks Challenge, in which they will be visiting Ben Nevis (Scotland), Scafell Peak (England) and Snowdon (Wales) in 24 hours!

Jon Yeung, MD of LGC Forensics & Security shares the team’s update on their training and preparation for the upcoming challenge.

“There’s just over a week to go until the Forensics & Security Leadership Team embark on their Three Peaks Challenge!

Training (for some) is in full flow with one of the team scaling all three peaks in the lead up to the main event…a pretty impressive way to break in those new walking boots!

The logistics team have completed their preparations with vehicles hired and provisions to support a dozen hungry walkers procured. There are a lot of high energy snacks (Informed-Sport accredited, of course!) to help with refuelling and pot noodles seem to have made their way into the shopping basket for some reason too…

Mike Webster, HR Leader for Forensics & Security is leading the playlist development for the long road trips between mountains so it promises to be a weekend of New Romantics and 70s Rock – synths and seven minute guitar solos at the ready!

Thanks to everyone who has sponsored us so far – your generosity has been amazing and will help keep us going on the long climbs to come.”


To find out more, please visit the charity pages on our website. To donate please visit the justgiving page. Thanks.

Jul 25

Fromelles: The spirit lives

Fromelles 100The Battle of Fromelles commenced on 19 July 1916, 19 days after the opening of the Somme campaign on the Western Front. It is a day and a place that is marked by a tragic sacrifice as this day is the bloodiest day of battle in  Australia’s military history.

The 5th Australian Division had arrived in France in late June 1916; it was a new Division, formed less than 6 months previously with less than a third of the personnel having had fighting experience at Gallipoli. The battle was meant to be a diversion, to keep German reserves at Fromelles, away from the Somme. The British 61st Division were to make the assault with the Australian 5th Division, however that battle did not go as planned and by the time they had reached half way through no-man’s land many of the battalions had become separated under artillery and heavy machine-gun fire, leaving isolated groups. Some British and Australian troops broke into enemy trenches and continued with their objectives, but by night fall without support and in danger of being cut off they had to retire back to their own lines.

Hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers were left behind while hundreds more had no choice but to surrender. More than 5,500 Australian and 1,500 British soldiers were casualties at Fromelles, while the Germans suffered approximately 1,000 losses.  The Battle had no impact on the Somme where fighting continued. The impact of the battle in Australia was immense. More lives had been lost in this battle compared to weeks of fighting at Gallipoli.


LGC has played a significant role in the identification of soldiers  who died at this battle a century ago.

Since 2009 scientists at LGC have assisted the Australian and UK Ministry of Defence in examining – with forensic archaeologists, anthropologists, genealogists, and military historians – the remains of 250 soldiers that were found at a mass grave at Pheasant Wood, a small copse area on the outskirts of the small village of Fromelles.

It was in 2009 that I first worked with Oxford Archaeology, who were working in the mass graves, to provide them with DNA support and strategy sampling methods. A temporary laboratory facility was set up and specific samples were sent to our DNA testing laboratory in Teddington for DNA item examination and processing. Y chromosome DNA testing and mitochondrial DNA testing were carried out on all 250 sets of remains as standard DNA analysis would have been insufficient for identification purposes. The descendants of these soldiers who have been tracked down – and continue to come forward – across the globe are mainly distantly related as cousins, great nephews and nieces. The long task of sending DNA sampling kits across the world, testing and carrying out the complex comparisons has allowed us to provide evidence to assist in the identification of 150 of the 250 soldiers from the Pheasant Wood mass grave. The Australian authorities continue to search for new relatives to come forward and our DNA database continues to grow year on year.


The first Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery to be built in more than 50 years was opened at Fromelles in 2010 where all 250 soldiers were buried with full military honours. I have been privileged to attend this ceremony in 2010, 2014 and again this year, on invitation by the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs, to commemorate and honour their sacrifice in the most tragic of times.

On Tuesday 19 July, I attended the headstone commemoration with three colleagues who have been working with me on this project and with some previous LGC colleagues and Oxford Archaeology,  who feel like I do that this identification programme has a significant place in our hearts.

Fromelles is part of our daily vocabulary. The service this year was televised live across the globe. Attendees included the Minister of Veteran Affairs for Australia, Dan Tehan, the Governor of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, Mayor of Fromelles & Albert, in addition to family members able  of the six soldiers identified this year as well as previously identified soldiers family descendants.

The hottest day of the year, the atmosphere was poignant, the voices of the Birralee Choir of Brisbane, Queensland and the Australian Army Band setting the scene for a moving and heartfelt service… It is hard to describe the feeling when you hear the name of each soldier who has been identified and hear about their life story being read aloud while the family members make their way with a military escort to see for the very first time their name inscribed on a Portland stone headstone, hopefully providing some solace for the family knowing that their loved one has a final resting place recognised. “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon stanzas 3 & 4 was read before the last post and minute’s silence. Four large grandstands full of family, friends, and invited dignitaries sang in full voice the Marseillaise and Advance Australia Fair. Some had dressed in historical outfits, others in full military regalia, while others sat in silence, remembering the fallen soldiers. Indigenous flowers and wreaths were laid by representatives of all the armed services and members of the different divisions of the Commonwealth.


It was a privilege to attend and walk through the cemetery that I have become so familiar with, paying my respects and talking to the families, knowing that we have been able to be part of this significant occasion and historical event. John Symeon, Lead Analyst, DNA, LGC, who also attended the ceremony this year, commented, “It was an honour to attend this ceremony and see first-hand the result of our hard work and the impact this has on the lives of these Australian families”.

Grave sites across the Western Front and elsewhere across the globe continue to be found. Walking through a field at Fromelles, you are never far away from the impact the Great War of 1914-1918 has left. The German concrete fort nearby is still visible, unexploded shells are still located in nearby fields and mortar shell can be seen in the farmers fields as you walk through them.

Our commitment to this project continues and we will remember them . Lest We Forget.


By Victoria Moore, DNA Sector Manager, LGC

Jul 08

Management team put best foot forward for charity

IMG_0558On 6 and 7 August, 14 members of LGC’s Forensics & Security leadership team are undertaking the Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for The Motor Neurone Disease Association, this year’s chosen corporate charity.

The Three Peaks Challenge involves climbing the three highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, often within 24 hours.

Jon Yeung, event organiser and Managing Director of the division, said, “I’m looking forward to the challenge! Some of us are happier to have been designated drivers rather than walkers – and some of us are looking forward to the relaxation afterwards! But we’ve started training already and have made sure that the groups include people with knowledge of each peak, just in case we get separated. I know that some of the team have never even owned walking boots so we have a range of fitness levels and experience but it should be fun – at least to look back on and help raise some money for MND Association.”

The three mountains in the challenge are:

Snowdon, in Wales (1085m)

Scafell Pike, in England (978m)

Ben Nevis, in Scotland (1345m)

Interestingly, it is a popular misconception that the three mountains in question are the three highest in Britain — in fact, over one hundred peaks in Scotland are higher than Scafell Pike, and 56 higher than Snowdon…

The MND Association’s vision is ’A world free from MND’. The charity funds and promotes global research that will revolutionise understanding and treatments and bring us closer to a cure. Its patron is Professor Stephen Hawking. MND, also commonly known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the USA, is a fatal, rapidly progressive disease that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. This means messages gradually stop reaching muscles, which leads to weakness and wasting. MND can leave people locked in a failing body, unable to move, talk, swallow and eventually breathe. One third of people with MND lose their life within a year and more than half die within two years of diagnosis. It is a swiftly progressive neurological disease that affects over 400,000 of the world’s population and kills over 100,000 every year.


To find out more, please visit the charity pages on our website. To donate please visit the justgiving page. Thanks.

Jul 01

Discover what inorganic mass spectrometry can do

Inorganic mass spectrometry has a wide range of potential applications, from reference material development to nanoparticle analysis or pharmaceutical testing, as will be showcased by LGC scientists at the 18th Biennial National Atomic Spectroscopy Symposium (BNASS) on 4 to 6 July 2016.

BNASS is the biennial meeting of the RSC Atomic Spectroscopy Group and provides a forum to encourage the exchange of ideas and knowledge in analytical atomic spectroscopy. The conference has been running for over 30 years and has an international reputation for both the quality of the science presented and the unique style of the symposium. Our scientists will be giving 2 presentations and presenting 3 posters, details of which can be found below.

Heidi Goenaga-Infante working in the lab

Keynote lecture: ICP-MS hyphenations for the characterisation of nanomaterials: from size-based speciation to counting, Heidi Goenaga-Infante (pictured, Session: Single particle/nano particle applications, 6 July)

Nanomaterials are being used in an ever-growing number of products (currently over 1300) but their potential impact on human health and the environment is not yet well understood. To support and drive legislation there is a need for appropriate measurement capabilities to ensure their safety and protect consumer health. This keynote lecture will cover the role of inorganic mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and hyphenated technologies (FFF) for the characterisation of nanomaterials.


Lecture: Developing reference methods and certified reference materials for challenging biological samples – a whole blood material to support Cr and Co analysis for metal-on-metal hip replacement patients, Sarah Hill (Session: Bio-analytical applications, 5 July)

A fundamental part of LGC’s role as the UK’s designated measurement institute for chemical and biological measurements is the production of reference materials. In this talk the challenges associated with method development and production of a whole blood certified reference material (CRM) for cobalt (Co) and chromium (Cr) using inorganic mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) will be discussed. This Co/Cr CRM, to be released later in 2016, will support hospitals in monitoring levels of metal ions in the blood stream of metal-on-metal hip replacement patients to ensure accurate and early diagnosis of joint failure.


Posters to look out for:

Elemental impurities testing to ICH Q3D: Practical challenges

Recent European regulation changes require the testing of all new pharmaceutical drug products and excipients for metal impurities (ICH Q3D, effective from this month) with similar legislation coming in to force in the USA next year (USP 232/233). Sarah James will present a poster on our specialist capabilities and services in this area and you can find out more on our website.

LA-ICP-MS elemental bio-imaging: double IDMS quantification and uncertainty estimation

The accumulation of iron in the brain is associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s. David Douglas will present the first potential reference method for determining iron in brain tissue. This work will ultimately provide validation for non-invasive imaging techniques such as MRI and PET scans. This will enable earlier disease diagnosis, leading to quicker administration of drugs to slow disease progression and an overall improvement in patient care. Read our recent JAAS paper to find out more.

The use of QQQ-ICPMS technology for interference-free measurement of 129-I: Improving selectivity for reference value assignment using isotope dilution analysis

Iodine is an essential element naturally found in some foods and is of particular importance for pregnant women and infants as it plays a critical role in brain development. Sarah Hill will present the use of a novel inorganic mass spectrometry technique (QQQ-ICP-MS) to accurately quantify iodine in infant formula milk, a method suitable for the certification of reference materials.

Strategies for size-specific isotope dilution quantification of silica nanoparticles using FFF-ICP-MS

To support the characterisation of nanoparticles, there is a need for the development of reference methods and materials. Susana Nunez will present a novel approach to accurately quantify silicon nanoparticles in a complex sample using a hyphenated inorganic mass spectrometry technique (FFF-ICP-MS). This approach has potential for the characterisation of nanoparticle reference materials in the future.



For further information on when the Co/Cr CRM will be available, and for other reference material information, please contact our sales team.

LGC, the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

Jun 21

What’s funny about your honey?

This blog continues our series highlighting how scientists at LGC are addressing measurement challenges to support regulation in the food industry and inform customer decisions during the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food, starting today (21 June 2016).

Honey dripping isolated on whiteHoney is known to have multiple health and nutritional benefits and is in high demand among consumers. It is defined as the natural sweet substance produced by bees and there is significant regulation around the composition and labelling of honey in order to protect consumers from food fraud. However, due to the declining numbers of bees, the impact of weather conditions on supply and the high costs production, honey is expensive. This makes it a prime target for economically-motivated food fraud.

There are two types of food fraud associated with honey: adulteration and fraudulent labelling. Honey adulteration typically occurs by substituting honey for cheaper sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, cane or beet sugar syrup. Fraudulent labelling occurs because honeys from a particular geographic or botanical source, such as Manuka, command premium prices amongst consumers. Detecting these types of fraud presents a significant measurement challenge for food regulators: adulterated products show very similar physical and chemical properties to pure honey  and mis-labelled products are pure honey, just of lower quality.

It is possible to identify food fraud in honey using a technique called isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IR-MS), which measures small but observable variations in the ratios of the two stable isotopes of carbon (C-13 and C-12). Sugars, although chemically identical, have a different isotopic signature depending on the way in which the plant processes carbon dioxide. As the majority of honey-source plants use a different pathway than plant sugars typically used as honey adulterants, it is possible to detect adulteration using IR-MS. The specific geographic origin of the plants also plays a role in the isotopic fingerprint and IR-MS can be used to help determine where honeys originated.

However, in order that these types of measurements are robust and reliable in detecting food fraud across the supply chain the comparability of results is critical. To support this, LGC co-ordinated an international comparison study for isotope ratios in honey involving 6 national measurement institutes (NMIs) and 6 expert laboratories (contacted via the FIRMS (Forensic Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry Network) and the results between participants showed good comparability.

Ensuring the safety and authenticity of the food we eat is of paramount importance and there is growing concern, both at the EU and global level, to ensure the quality control of food to protect the health and safety of consumers. Demonstrating the comparability of isotope ratio measurements is crucial to detecting many types of food fraud and supporting food authenticity claims, of which honey is just one example. The international study coordinated by LGC demonstrates the measurement framework is in place to support food fraud regulation in the future .


The topics of food safety and security, including further detail around this work, are being discussed at the Government Chemist Conference ‘Science supporting trust in food’ on 21-22 June 2016. #trustinfoodGC16

LGC produces a 13C/12C certified reference material (ERM-AE672a), the first SI-traceable material certified for absolute carbon isotope ratios. The material is available to purchase through LGC Standards, for further information please contact our sales team.

LGC, the UK’s Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

May 25

The importance of iodine – are you drinking enough milk?

Ensuring the safety of the food we eat is of paramount importance. This blog continues our series highlighting how scientists at LGC are addressing measurement challenges to support regulation in the food industry and protect human health in advance of the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food, on 21-22 June 2016.

Happy swiss cow on green grassIodine is an essential element naturally found in some foods. Insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet results in low levels of thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulation of metabolism. In pregnant women and infants iodine is of particular importance as it plays a critical role in brain development. The primary sources of iodine for most people are milk and dairy products but due to increases in dairy intolerance and changes in diet, milk-products are being increasingly substituted for non-milk alternatives.

To identify the impact that such dietary changes might have on iodine levels across the population, an understanding of the levels of iodine naturally present in milk is necessary. This includes the effects of seasonal variations or fat content and any processing effects of pasteurisation which might reduce the iodine content. These variations are being investigated by Maria O’Kane, a final-year PhD student at the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, Ulster University, with milk samples collected over a 12-month period. However, these differences must be measured accurately in order to properly determine the influence different conditions have on iodine content.

Within its role as the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, scientists at LGC have developed a high accuracy quantitative method (inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry) for the analysis of iodine in milk and milk-products to support the regulation on iodine levels in infant formulas. Using this expertise, LGC were able to support the work being done at Ulster University, providing the analytical capability required to determine the levels of iodine in milk under a variety of conditions.

Of the collaboration, Maria said:

LGC facilitated my visit to the laboratory in Teddington and enabled me to undertake analysis of the milk samples collected as part of my PhD using high accuracy ICP-MS. The expert staff at LGC supported my learning and enabled me to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of ICP-MS analysis.

Maria’s work will inform the UK’s understanding of current iodine intake and support future research in this area. This clearly demonstrates the impact the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement can have on real-world problems, protecting human health and ensuring the safety of our food.



The topic of food safety and security will be discussed at the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food on 21-22 June 2016. #trustinfoodGC16

LGC, the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

May 04

Food safety: how much arsenic is in my rice?

Ensuring the safety of the food we eat is of paramount importance. Scientists at LGC are addressing a number of measurement challenges to support regulation in the food industry and protect human health which we shall highlight over the coming weeks prior to the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food, on 21-22 June 2016.

Portrait of Baby Being FedRice is the most important crop worldwide as it is the staple food for more than 50 % of the world’s population and is also a popular first food for babies. Arsenic, a toxic element found naturally in the environment, is found in a number of inorganic and organic forms but the inorganic arsenic forms (species), As(III) and As(V), are harmful to human health and known to be carcinogenic. Arsenic typically enters the food chain through groundwater and there is an inherent small accumulation in animals and plants. Pollution has caused increased levels of inorganic arsenic to collect in groundwater and consequently rice, grown in flooded fields and requiring high levels of irrigation, contains particularly high levels of these toxic forms of arsenic.

EU legislation (Commission Regulation (EC) No 2015/1006) was introduced in June 2015 that sets defined limits for the levels of inorganic arsenic (sum of As(III) and As(V))  in specific rice and rice products and legalised in January 2016. To ensure the continued safety of rice-based products, here in the UK the Food Standards Agency is also working to determine whether further risk management is required for infant rice-based foods to supplement EU legislation.

In support of this recent legislation, scientists at LGC have been working to develop accurate and traceable methods to quantify total levels of inorganic arsenic (as a sum of both species) present in brown rice. It is the specific form that determines the degree of toxicity, with As(III) and As(V) being more toxic than organo-arsenics. This analysis presents a significant measurement challenge as the different forms of arsenic can inter-convert during sample preparation if not handled appropriately.

The methods developed at LGC have been used to value-assign a new Proficiency Testing (PT) scheme Trial Sample: metals in brown rice. The inclusion of such a material has been specifically requested by food testing labs to help them demonstrate their competence in measuring these chemical contaminants.

This demonstrates the impact LGC in its role as the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement can have on ensuring the safety of our food, supporting regulation and protecting human health.


For further details of the brown rice trial material PT please contact the Chemistry Technical team.

For other PT schemes run by LGC please contact our sales team.

The topic of food safety and security will be discussed at the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food on 21-22 June 2016. #trustinfoodGC16

LGC, the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

Apr 27

Is food allergen analysis flawed?

The Government Chemist Programme and expert collaborators call on Europe to improve the safety and security of food for people with allergies


This Allergy Awareness Week we want to highlight the current challenges with food allergen measurements.

Food allergy is a rapidly growing problem in the developed world, affecting up to 10 % of children and 2-3 % of adults. Common trigger foods can be milk, eggs, shellfish, nuts, fish, and even citrus fruits or kiwis. The reactions those at risk experience on eating these trigger foods can range from a mild runny nose or sneezing attack to severe skin reactions, throat swelling, vomiting and diarrhoea. And very rarely these reactions can result in anaphylaxis and prove fatal.

Regardless of the extent of reaction, people with allergies must be careful to avoid the offending food and they, their parents and carers can suffer a significantly diminished quality of life.

Currently the risks associated with allergic reactions to food are being managed mainly through labelling. We have all seen lists of potential allergens on the back of packaging: “may contain nuts” on the back of a pack of hazelnut and chocolate chip cookies. However, there are other less obvious risks to consumers with food allergies than just the ingredients used directly in making a cookie. Allergens can be present due to cross-contamination during harvest transport or storage and documenting their presence is much harder. To prevent contamination, segregation and cleaning procedures are crucial but “may contain”-style labelling is currently often resorted to, which is not ideal.

The key to unlock this problem may be the concept of “thresholds of elicitation”, the lowest concentrations that produce an allergic response in a defined (low) proportion of the allergic population. A huge amount of work is being done to determine safe thresholds for allergens but without the framework in place to measure allergens accurately and reliably, this work will be in vain. Currently issues such as measurement cross-reactivity, the complexity of food samples, and the lack of standardisation present massive challenges to accurate allergen measurements.

In the recently published open access Analyst paper, Michael Walker, of the Government Chemist Programme at LGC, and his colleagues present a strategy to address these key measurement challenges in allergen analysis: a ‘grand vision’ requiring significant international effort and an inter-disciplinary approach.

Of this challenge Michael Walker said:

Our recommendations are complex with associated resource demand but rarely has such an exciting interdisciplinary scientific endeavour arisen as a solution to a key socially relevant problem.

If we fail to realise the promise of future risk management of food allergens through lack of the ability to measure food allergens properly the analytical community will have failed a significant societal challenge.

The recommendations are primarily addressed to the European Commission, the Health and Food Safety Directorate, DG Santé. They suggest the need for bioinformatics studies to relevant markers or allergenic proteins within allergenic foods; the development of reference methods for these allergenic proteins and ultimately production of appropriate reference materials which can support threshold decisions.

The result of these efforts would be a food chain which is reliable, resistant to fraud and ultimately safe for allergic consumers.


The challenges of allergen measurements will also be discussed at the Government Chemist Conference: Science supporting trust in food on 21-22 June 2016.


Notes for editors

M J Walker, D T Burns, C T Elliott, M H Gowland, E N C Mills. Is food allergen analysis flawed? Health and supply chain risks and a proposed framework to address urgent analytical needs. Analyst (2016) 141:24-35. doi:10.1039/c5an01457c open access paper

Michael Walker is available for interview

To contact the press office please email Julian Quigley, PR Manager, or call +44 (0)20 8943 8491

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