Sunday, June 29, 2008
ELISA - Applications
Because the ELISA can be performed to evaluate either the presence of antigen or the presence of antibody in a sample, it is a useful tool both for determining serum antibody concentrations (such as with the HIV test or West Nile Virus) and also for detecting the presence of antigen.
It has also found applications in the food industry in detecting potential food allergens such as milk, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and eggs. ELISA can also be used in toxicology as a rapid presumptive screen for certain classes of drugs.
The ELISA test, or the enzyme immunoassay (EIA), was the first screening test commonly employed for HIV. It has a high sensitivity. In an ELISA test, a person's serum is diluted 400-fold and applied to a plate to which HIV antigens have been attached. If antibodies to HIV are present in the serum, they may bind to these HIV antigens. The plate is then washed to remove all other components of the serum. A specially prepared "secondary antibody" — an antibody that binds to other antibodies — is then applied to the plate, followed by another wash.
This secondary antibody is chemically linked in advance to an enzyme. Thus the plate will contain enzyme in proportion to the amount of secondary antibody bound to the plate. A substrate for the enzyme is applied, and catalysis by the enzyme leads to a change in color or fluorescence. ELISA results are reported as a number; the most controversial aspect of this test is determining the "cut-off" point between a positive and negative result.
One method of determining a cut-off point is by comparison with a known standard. For example, if an ELISA test will be used in workplace drug screening, a cut-off concentration (e.g., 50 ng/mL of drug) will be established and a sample will be prepared that contains that concentration of analyte. Unknowns that generate a signal that is stronger than the known sample are called "positive"; those that generate weaker signal are called "negative."