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What's Next in Chips


Oxford GlycoSciences recently allied with Cambridge Antibody Technologies and ink-jet biochip specialist Packard BioScience to make protein chips.

CAT has the antibody expertise, OGS has the world’s largest library of characterized proteins, and Packard brings to the mix its first generation BioChip Arrayer, its Piezo Electric Dispensing system, and its HydroGel substrate material.

According to Jocelyn Burke, vice president and general manager of Packard BioChip Ventures, Packard will oversee liquid handling development, but chip “printing” and testing will be done at OGS.

Raj Parekh, chief scientist at OGS says his firm has already characterized about a quarter of a million protein parts from 15,000 to 20,000 genes — a number that represents about one quarter of the genome. Parekh says he expects the joint venture to market “reliable biochips targeted for diagnostics in specific diseases in the next 12-18 months with high specificity and sensitivity.”

Declining to be more specific, Parekh says their first chips will be for diagnostics for a variety of cancers. Financial terms of this three-pronged joint venture are yet to be defined, and OGS refused to say how the profit pie would be sliced.

It’s likely to be quite a pie. Protein biochips could soon be considered a superior tool in many diagnostic settings because proteins represent the final step in the process towards a disease phenotype.

In some cases mRNA never gets translated into protein. But, in the DNA chip’s defense, irregularities at the mRNA level that do not show up at the protein level will also be important for clinical medicine in the future. Most likely, clinical medicine will soon see increased use of both mRNA and protein chips.

OGS’s protein chips would allow clinicians to detect disease earlier and less invasively, using blood or urine in most cases. In addition, Parekh says the chips will offer a more accurate way to determine which drug to administer for optimum drug response.

Protein chips will also be important for characterizing all proteins. According to Parekh, once the majority of proteins have been analyzed, chips will be used to extract known proteins from samples. Antibodies for those will be embedded in the chips. Proteins that don’t bind will be washed off and analyzed using traditional 2D gels and mass spectrometry.

The process will help to reduce redundancy and allow researchers to discover the more elusive proteins by eliminating background noise or, as it were, removing the hay to find the needle.

— Christopher Maggos


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