How Digital PCR Unlocks Scientific Possibilities

Digital PCR has emerged as a powerful new tool in research. QIAGEN takes it a step further with its robust, scalable and well-integrated nanoplate-based digital PCR system.

AsianScientist (Nov. 2, 2023) – The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) developed in the 1980s sparked a scientific revolution. With researchers able to reproduce specific fragments of DNA rapidly for in-depth study, many fields experienced advancements, from clinical diagnostics to microbiome and cancer research. Since then, the PCR has been further refined, leading to newer forms like digital PCR.

Unlike traditional PCR, digital PCR measures the number of nucleic acids quantitatively and with higher precision, as it divides the sample into thousands of smaller partitions that undergo PCR amplification separately but simultaneously. Partitions with amplified target molecules are identified using fluorescence, while the final distribution of target molecules is obtained using statistical methods—specifically Poisson distribution. Being more versatile and sensitive, digital PCR can perform absolute quantification without the need for a reference sample. As such, digital PCR has a lower detection limit and higher precision than qPCR.

An all-in-one scalable solution

QIAGEN, a global solutions provider for research and diagnostic applications, launched the QIAcuity, a nanoplate-based digital PCR system in 2020. Since then, QIAcuity has enabled cost-efficient, highly versatile digital PCR technology available to laboratories worldwide. Compared to the more conventional droplet-based approach—which uses a droplet generator to partition a sample—QIAGEN’s technology uses nanoplates with fixed numbers of wells for partitioning. By ensuring consistent partitioning, this method overcomes the issues of droplet size variability and cross-contamination risk associated with the conventional droplet-based approach.

The QIAcuity Digital PCR System, which is available in three configurations: one-plate, four-plate and eight-plate. Each configuration offers multiplexing capabilities and can be equipped with 8-, 24- or 96-well nanoplates, enabling 8,500 or 26,000 partitions per well and flexible sample throughputs, from 8 up to 1,248 samples.

In addition to scalability and high throughput capabilities, the biggest advantage of the instrument is its simple, intuitive workflow. Designed as an all-in-one solution, the QIAcuity Digital PCR System integrates partitioning, thermocycling, imaging and analysis in a single automated setup that takes only two hours to obtain results. The workflow is also similar to that of quantitative PCR (qPCR), or real-time PCR, making it easier for researchers to switch from qPCR to digital PCR assays without the need to reskill.

Another salient feature of the QIAcuity Digital PCR System is the QIAcuity Software Suite, which allows researchers to control QIAcuity products through a computer connected directly to the system or remotely using a local area network.

The wonders of a versatile instrument

Digital PCR technology is growing in demand due to its diverse uses in discovery and translational research as well as applied testing. For instance, it can play a role in monitoring disease outbreaks, as evidenced by the use of QIAGEN’s QIAcuity in wastewater-based epidemiology studies monitoring SARS-CoV-2 concentration.

In a similar vein, QIAGEN’s digital PCR solution has also been demonstrated to supplement malaria survey pipelines and help with analyzing challenging samples. This further highlights the technological potential of digital PCR in epidemiology and healthcare studies.

Applications of digital PCR in mutation and copy number variation (CNV) analysis, fusion gene analysis, and DNA methylation analysis make it a powerful technology and an invaluable tool at critical stages of cancer genomic research. The method is suitable for finding genetic changes in the tumor genome, identifying the role of cancer-specific fusion genes and understanding cancer-related epigenetic changes.

Biopharmaceutical customers developing next-generation therapies are increasingly adopting digital PCR to enhance drug safety and efficacy. Compared to previous technologies, digital PCR provides a higher level of sensitivity and accuracy that can be leveraged for multiple applications in the drug development process—from drug discovery and clinical trials to manufacturing. The QIAcuity Software Suite is also equipped with functions that allow manufacturers to comply with relevant FDA requirements.

Beyond the biopharmaceutical sector, researchers have adopted the QIAcuity in applications such as quantifying wine spoilage yeast and microbial contamination in poultry.

Globally, the digital PCR market value is predicted to expand to US$2.38 billion by 2030. The market experienced rapid growth during the pandemic, which saw a rise in SARS-CoV-2 testing and the associated use of digital PCR technologies. By ensuring robust quantification, accurate and sensitive detection, and quick time-to-result, digital PCR technologies such as QIAGEN’s QIAcuity have the potential to become the instrument of choice in laboratories.

Reach out to QIAGEN to learn more about the QIAcuity Digital PCR System here.


Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist