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Sequenom to Study How MassArray Might Help Identify Viruses

NEW YORK, Sept. 3 - Sequenom will kick off a series of studies before the end of the year to determine how its MassArray technology can be applied to viral identification, a company official said today.

Sequenom CSO Charles Cantor told GenomeWeb the firm will "most likely" coordinate the studies with Ulf Goebel, a professor of clinical microbiology at Berlin-based Charité hospital and an advisor to Sequenom on infectious diseases. The research will take between three and six months to wrap up, Cantor said. 


But one distinct logistical hurdle may likely surface: Since Goebel's lab currently holds samples of various infectious diseases, "there are issues whether geographically this collaboration will be easy to facilitate because you don't want to send samples that are infectious" halfway around the world, said Cantor. Goebel was not reachable for comment at deadline.


Still, "the infectious-disease angle is of particular interest to us and we're working hard to develop some efficient relationships in that area," Cantor stressed.


Indeed, as GenomeWeb reported in May, Sequenom had adapted its MassArray system to create a new technique for rapid bacterial identification, the first in a planned series of extensions of the core technology.


Working with collaborators at Humboldt University in Berlin, Sequenom researchers combined PCR amplification, base-specific fragmentation, and MALDI-TOF to identify bacteria by distinguishing variations in the 16S rRNA sequence.


Their method, described in an article in the May 14 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, bypasses the time-consuming process of culturing bacteria and allows the researchers to quickly distinguish more than a dozen closely related bacteria.


Using mass spectrometry for bacterial and viral typing represents a major advance in accuracy and speed, Cantor said in a May interview.


"It's a tremendous amount of information, and a very quick method," he said. "It brings to bacterial and viral identification all the precision of mass spectrometry."


Cantor estimated that the process could ultimately be shortened to less than an hour and would be capable of accurately identifying a mix of bacterial or viral strains. These two features would make the technology useful for large-scale clinical or environmental testing, he said.


"In the past, we've used mass spectrometry to interrogate SNPs, but the SNP had to be known in advance," Cantor said. "It wasn't a discovery tool, it was a confirmation tool. Now it's a discovery tool."


Kathleen McGowan contributed to this report.

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