AsianScientist (Jan. 16, 2017) – Just in case you haven’t already heard, there’s been a revolution in the way we carry out polymerase chain reactions, or PCR. This highly sensitive method, called digital PCR (dPCR), can be used to quantify the amount of DNA present in a given sample without the need for references or standards.
Dr. Johnson Ng, CEO of JN Medsys, an innovative dPCR technology company headquartered in Singapore, tells us more about what dPCR can achieve and how his company plans to help make this exciting new technology accessible to more labs.
What is dPCR and how does it work?
JN: dPCR is what is known as third generation PCR. The more commonly used method to quantify DNA is real-time or quantitative PCR (qPCR). As its name implies, qPCR allows you to quantify DNA but it does it using a relative method; the amount of DNA is determined by comparing the samples against known standards and controls.
In contrast, dPCR eliminates the need for such references, allowing you to do absolute quantification. It works by partitioning a typical PCR reaction into thousands of nanoliter sub-reactions such that each has at most a single copy of DNA. By counting the number of positive reactions after PCR, the number of copies of DNA present in the sample can be measured directly.
What are the advantages of dPCR? Which users would benefit most from switching to dPCR?
JN: In addition to obtaining absolute quantification, dPCR is also very good at detecting rare targets, which is why it is currently used in applications that demand high sensitivity. For example, oncologists who need to carry out rare mutation detection from cell-free DNA in liquid biopsy require a very sensitive detection method. That’s where digital PCR will come in.
Another group of people who would benefit are those working on infectious disease. Say for example that you are studying pathogens like hepatitis B or hepatitis C, where you really need to be able to quantify the viral load—dPCR will be very helpful here. These are just two of the main applications of dPCR.
How does what JN Medsys offer differ from other products on the market?
JN: The very early dPCR products used existing technologies, adapting them for dPCR. When you do that, you sometimes have certain limitations. For example, one of the early systems required a US$500 cartridge that could only be used to test one sample. So essentially you would be spending US$500 per reaction; that’s not very viable for most labs.
The problem with dPCR is that the workflow is more cumbersome than for qPCR, and the consumables and machines are still quite costly. What we did was to come up with the technology for doing dPCR, with very specific end goals in mind—we wanted to have something that is very easy to use and very affordable.
How much faster and more affordable are JN Medsys products?
JN: If you carry out normal qPCR, it’s very common to do 96 reactions in one run. But with dPCR it’s a little bit harder because of the technique involved. Unlike many other dPCR products out there, ours can do 96 reactions in one run in under four hours. Other products can do about 8 or 16 reactions in one whole day. In terms of cost, both our machine and consumables are quite affordable. Our machine is at least half the price of that of the market leader.
What are your near-term plans for the company?
JN: Our overwhelming focus right now is to build a good product. I’m still very product-focused, even though I’m the CEO, because at the end of the day we are a technology company. We plan to work very closely with our existing customers to continue improving the product, being there whenever something happens and helping them to solve their problems as quickly as possible.
Of course, to achieve our goals we will need a good team of people to build the product. We have a team of about 20 people who are all very dedicated and committed. We’re all working together to develop the product, put it out on the market and make sure that our end users derive the maximum benefit from using it.
Asian Scientist Magazine is a media partner of JN Medsys.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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