Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test

The beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT) is a blood test that measures beryllium sensitization, which is an "allergic" reaction to beryllium. The test is very specific, meaning that if your blood reacts to beryllium, nothing other than beryllium could have caused this reaction. It means that your immune system has seen beryllium as a "foreign invader," and has built an "army" of cells in the bloodstream that are prepared to react to beryllium wherever they see it in the body.

FAQ
What is a Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test (BeLTP)?
How is a BeLPT done?
Who should have a BeLPT?
Will the BeLPT tell me whether or not I have CBD?
What do the values on the test result mean?
I have a 2.5 SI on my National Jewish Health test result. Is this considered almost abnormal?
Does a very high SI value on my test result mean I have CBD?
Do I need to fast (not eat) prior to my blood test?
Will taking prednisone affect my test result?
Is there a program that will pay for my test?
Will my insurance company and/or employer have access to my test results?
Can I have a normal test and still have beryllium sensitization or CBD?
What is the false positive rate for the blood BeLPT?
What is the false negative rate for the blood BeLPT?
Can you test urine or hair for beryllium sensitization? Or hair?
 

 

What is a beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT)?

The beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT) is a test that helps determine if your immune system recognizes beryllium as a foreign substance and responds by generating a population of immune cells in the bloodstream that react to beryllium. The test is very specific, meaning that if your blood reacts to beryllium, nothing besides beryllium could have caused the reaction. In individuals who do not have beryllium sensitization or CBD, the immune system does not respond to beryllium, in fact, in some individuals, beryllium is toxic to the cells of non-sensitized individuals. 


 

How is a BeLPT done?

To perform the test, blood is drawn from a vein in your arm. In the laboratory, the white blood cells are separated from the rest of the blood cells and then mixed with a beryllium solution. If your immune system is sensitized to beryllium, these cells will multiply, producing an abnormal BeLPT result. If your immune system is not sensitized to beryllium, the cells will not multiply, producing a normal BeLPT result. In normal (non-sensitized) individuals, cells do not multiply. 

 

 

Who should have a BeLPT?

National Jewish Health® recommends that individuals who are or have been exposed to any form of beryllium dust or fumes (including pure beryllium metal, copper-, aluminum-, nickel-, and magnesium-beryllium alloys; ceramics, and composite materials) have a BeLPT.  This includes:

  • Individuals who currently work directly or have in the past with beryllium or in buildings where beryllium dust or fumes was created by others,
  • Individuals who have disturbed beryllium dust in some manner (such as through janitorial work, building maintenance, or construction),
  • Short-term employees, including summer students, since beryllium sensitization and CBD can develop within a few months of exposure,
  • Any person diagnosed with lung disease (especially scarring lung diseases) who has current or past exposure to beryllium. CBD can be mistaken for asthma, sarcoidosis, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, COPD or other lung ailments. The blood BeLPT helps correct mistakes in diagnosis.

 

 

Will the BeLPT tell me whether or not I have CBD?

The blood BeLPT only determines beryllium sensitivity; it does not differentiate between beryllium sensitivity and CBD. An abnormal blood response to beryllium does mean that you are beryllium sensitized, and most people with beryllium sensitization will eventually develop CBD1. The BeLPT result is either normal (no sensitization) or abnormal (beryllium sensitized). 

Individuals with two or more abnormal BeLPT results are considered to have “confirmed beryllium sensitization” and are encouraged to undergo further evaluation to determine if they have chronic beryllium disease (CBD). Individuals with other combinations of non-normal test results, such as an abnormal and a borderline BeLPT, may also be candidates for further evaluation. This medical evaluation typically includes an appointment with a physician familiar with the health effects of beryllium, exercise tolerance testing, pulmonary function testing, a chest x-ray or CT scan, blood work, and diagnostic bronchoscopy with biopsy and lavage (lung washing). The types of testing your physician performs may differ based on your overall health. Depending on the results of the tests, your physician will likely be able to determine if you have CBD. 

 

 

What do the values on the test result mean?

The BeLPT is performed in two parts which are done at the same time with a single blood sample: one part ensures your blood cells are alive and normal when they arrive at the laboratory, and the other part tests the blood cells for their reaction to beryllium.

Part 1: To ensure that your white blood cells are acting normally, we test them for their ability to react to two different substances known to make nearly everyone’s cells multiply.  One is an antigen and the other is a mitogen. If your cells react normally to these positive controls, the cells are then tested to see if they will react to a beryllium solution. 

Part 2: In the test for the reaction to beryllium we use three different concentrations of beryllium sulfate and check the cells at two different points in time. If your cells multiply in two or more of these six beryllium conditions, the test is interpreted as abnormal.

Results: Your cells’ reactions to the mitogen, antigen, and beryllium are reported in the results. Each laboratory that performs the BeLPT sets it own values to determine whether cell responses are normal or abnormal

 

 

I have a 2.5 SI on my National Jewish Health test result. Is this considered almost abnormal?

In the National Jewish laboratory, tests with all values 2.5 and less are considered normal. In our laboratory, two of the six measurements must be greater than 2.5 for the test to be abnormal.

 

 

Does a very high SI value on my test result mean I have CBD?

National Jewish has not found that high abnormal values are linked to disease. A person with a 12.8 is no more likely to have CBD than a person with a 5.8. Further testing is needed to determine whether or not an individual has CBD.

 

 

Do I need to fast (not eat) prior to my blood test?

No, your test results are not affected by food or drink.

 

 

Will taking prednisone affect my test result?

We are able to perform the test in people who are taking prednisone. National Jewish Health sees many patients who are on immunosuppressive drugs, such as corticosteroids like prednisone, who have abnormal BeLPTs. Although definitive research has not been done, if possible it is preferable that you discontinue medicines that suppress the immune system 3 months prior to a BeLPT.  This should be done only if your doctor considers it safe to reduce or stop your medicines. If you were on an immunosuppressive drug when your BeLPT was done, and you have doubts about the validity of your test results, we suggest you meet with your personal physician to determine if you should discontinue your medication and have a repeat test.

 

 

Is there a program that will pay for my test?

If you are a current or former Department of Energy employee or subcontractor, you may qualify for free testing. Many private insurance companies will cover the cost of the test, as will Medicare. Because plans vary in coverage, you should contact your insurance company for benefit information. For information on Department of Energy programs, please see http://www.dol.gov/.

 

 

Will my insurance company and/or employer have access to my test results?

If your employer or insurance company pays for your BeLPT, most likely you will have to sign a waiver allowing an authorized representative to see the results of your test. If you file a workers’ compensation or Department of Labor claim for beryllium sensitization or CBD, you may need to release your test results to the claims examiner before your claim can be processed. Under federal law (HIPAA), no one may access your test results unless you give them permission by signing a release of medical information. 

 

 

Can I have a normal test and still have beryllium sensitization or CBD?

National Jewish Health physicians have diagnosed CBD in individuals who have granulomas in their lungs but normal blood BeLPT results. In such instances, the lung cells usually react to beryllium when the lavage BeLPT is performed using cells washed from the lungs.

 

 

What is the false positive rate for the blood BeLPT?

If a person has an abnormal (“positive”) blood BeLPT, there is a greater likelihood that it will again be abnormal when it is repeated. Of people who have two abnormal blood BeLPT results, the chances of the test becoming consistently normal again in the future is very low. These rates vary some among the laboratories that perform the BeLPT.


 

What is the false negative rate for the blood BeLPT?

A “false negative” test means that the test was read as being normal (“negative”) when a person has beryllium sensitization or chronic beryllium disease. This occurs rarely.  Although a normal blood BeLPT is reassuring, it is not a 100 percent guarantee that you do not have beryllium sensitization or CBD. The test should be repeated if there is a strong suspicion that you have beryllium sensitization or CBD. In some instances, it may be necessary to do other tests to determine if you have beryllium sensitization or CBD, in which case your physician should contact our medical staff to discuss options. 


 

Can you test urine for beryllium sensitization? Or hair?

While it is possible to test for beryllium in urine and hair, it is not helpful in determining if you have beryllium sensitization or CBD. A urine test and tests on hair can determine if someone is or has been recently exposed to beryllium, but it does not detect beryllium sensitization or CBD. 

For more information on beryllium, please contact National Jewish Health® at 1.800.222.5864.


References:

  1. Newman LS, Mroz MM, Balkissoon RC, Maier LA.  Beryllium sensitization progresses to chronic beryllium disease: a longitudinal study of disease risk. Am J Respir Crit Car Med 2004.

 

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