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Published on 02.11.12

Hoffman LaRoche validating Research in Disease Diagnostics

Hoffman LaRoche R-in-R Peter Noy with
CRANN PhD student Sarah Louise Ball

A recent story in the US publication Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News (GEN) highlights the work that Prof. Hegner is conducting with Hofmann-LaRoche and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) Genetics Department. GEN spoke to Prof Hegner in advance of his presentation at the Knowledge Foundation Conference on “Integrating Sample Preparation: Techniques and Applications” in Baltimore at the end of October.

Prof. Hegner and his team in CRANN have worked for the past decade on ways to detect easily dissolvable macromolecules (large molecules, e.g. nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids) with small cantilevered array sensors. These types of sensors use an array of resonating microcantilevers (like tiny diving boards) to measure micro-organism interactions under various conditions.

The work undertaken with Hoffman LaRoche focuses on specifically detecting small RNA from serum using the cantilever array sensors within 10–15 minutes. Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, is a nucleic acid, molecules that are essential for all known forms of life on Earth. Currently the multi-national company is validating the technology in CRANN and has deployed Peter Noy, a researcher in residence.

“Signs of organ disease may be in the blood long before other phenotypic signs are evident. The kidney and liver, for example, release abundant amounts of miRNA indicating that the organ is no longer healthy” explains Martin Hegner. Because miRNA in blood may be present at concentrations of up to 200 million per milliliter and quite stable (as opposed to its longer RNA cousins), it should in principle be quite easy to measure.

The sensors are coated with matching sequences which detect bound complementary miRNA in a couple of ways, with no labelling or modification of the target necessary, either by bending of the cantilever, or by changing the cantilever’s oscillation. The technology was initially derived from scanning probe microscopy, and delivers sensitivity at the Femtomolar level that can be read out using laser optics.

The team is also collaborating with the California Institute of Technology to develop a version using integrated nanoelectronics in the cantilever itself “where we don’t need an optical readout,” Prof. Hegner says, with the aim being the creation of an entire system in a handheld device, perhaps even for use in an ambulance.

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