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Purpose: Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is widely used and cost-effective. Depending on the specific methods, NGS can have limitations detecting certain technically challenging variant types even though they are both prevalent in patients and medically important. These types are underrepresented in validation studies, hindering the uniform assessment of test methodologies by laboratory directors and clinicians. Specimens containing such variants can be difficult to obtain; thus, we evaluated a novel solution to this problem. Methods: A diverse set of technically challenging variants was synthesized and introduced into a known genomic background. This specimen was sequenced by 7 laboratories using 10 different NGS workflows. Results: The specimen was compatible with all 10 workflows and presented biochemical and bioinformatic challenges similar to those of patient specimens. Only 10 of 22 challenging variants were correctly identified by all 10 workflows, and only 3 workflows detected all 22. Many, but not all, of the sensitivity limitations were bioinformatic in nature. Conclusions: Synthetic controls can provide an efficient and informative mechanism to augment studies with technically challenging variants that are difficult to obtain otherwise. Data from such specimens can facilitate inter-laboratory methodologic comparisons and can help establish standards that improve communication between clinicians and laboratories.

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