The market for microRNA microarrays may be mature, but there is still room for relative newcomers to win new clients.
Toray Industries announced last month that Cambridge Genomic Services, an experiment support facility based within the University of Cambridge's pathology deparment, would offer miRNA expression profiling services on Toray's 3D-Gene microarray platform.
Emily Clemente, head of CGS, told BioArray News that the facility opted for Toray's platform after Illumina stopped offering miRNA arrays in 2012. CGS has been an Illumina certified service provider for both gene expression and genotyping arrays, and has for the past seven years provided services on the San Diego vendor's BeadChips. The facility is also increasingly busy. Clemente said that CGS processed 80,000 samples last year.
"We were mostly interested in [Toray's] miRNA arrays as it was something we weren't offering," said Clemente. "Illumina used to offer miRNA arrays but since they stopped we didn't find an alternative. We contemplated Exiqon but it wasn't worth it as we couldn't be competitive enough compared to Exiqon's own service lab."
Tokyo-based Toray has been courting facilities like CGS since it established a sales office in London and began selling its arrays in Europe three years ago. The company initially launched the 3D-Gene platform in Japan in 2006, attracting interest from researchers who were dissatisfied with other vendors' platforms.
Toray's 3D-Gene chips are constructed of black resin, which the firm claims reduces background fluorescence. Probes are attached to 3D micro-columns on the surface of the arrays, and the columns are also surrounded by microbeads that are encapsulated on the chip and can be agitated to ensure homogenous sample distribution during the hybridization process, according to the firm.
The company offers arrays for human, mouse, and rat whole-genome expression and multi-species miRNA expression profiling, positioning 3D-Gene as a tool that enables users to work with low-abundance targets such as miRNAs, or degraded samples, such as formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue specimens.
It was these qualities that persuaded CGS to adopt 3D-Gene.
"We liked the technology because it's very sensitive," said Clemente. "There's no need for amplification," she said. "You just start off with total RNA, label it, and hybridize it to the array." This has allowed CGS to pass on cost savings to its clients, Clemente noted, as it is less labor intensive. She added that the "quality of the data is very good" and claimed that CGS is picking up more information with Toray's chips that with other similar products on the market.
While larger array firms such as Affymetrix, Agilent Technologies, and Exiqon continue to offer miRNA arrays, "the real competition" in the market is coming from next-generation sequencing. Clemente noted that users can now profile miRNA expression in 48 samples at a time on Illumina's MiSeq platform, which CGS offers in house. The facility is also investing in its sequencing service and associated bioinformatics, she said.
Still, Clemente maintained that Toray's 3D-Gene platform is "ideal" for trials, difficult samples, or small projects.
At least one other European genomic services provider has also adopted Toray's platform. Last year, the TATAA Biocenter, a Gothenburg, Sweden-based facility, began offering both miRNA and mRNA expression profiling services on the 3D-Gene platform.