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Looking to Build Assay Menu, NanoInk to Debut Angiogenesis, Alzheimer's, and Rodent Tox Kits

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By Justin Petrone

NanoInk is developing assays that can be used to profile proteins relevant to angiogenesis, Alzheimer's disease, and drug-toxicity monitoring in rodents, BioArray News has learned.

The new products would follow the February launch of a human inflammation cytokine profiling assay, and are part of NanoInk's effort to broaden its business beyond selling instruments and contract research services, according to a company official.

Jennifer Ohayon, NanoInk's Biodiscovery project leader, said last week that the Skokie, Ill.-based nanoarray firm has several new assays in development. Ohayon spoke with BioArray News following a presentation at Select Biosciences' Advances in Microarray Technology meeting in Dublin, Ireland.

Ohayon said that NanoInk plans to introduce assays for angiogenic-factor screening, growth-factor and signal-transducer screening, cell cycle-protein and transcription-factor screening, cytokine-expression profiling, apoptosis-protein screening, protease screening, biomarker detection, and chemokine and adipokine screening, as well as assays for Alzheimer's disease and rodent toxicology.

Ohayon said that of these panels, the angiogenic factor-screening assay will launch this month, while the rodent toxicology kit and the Alzheimer's panel are also nearing commercialization. She declined to commit to exact launch dates for the assays.

In February, NanoInk launched its Human Inflammation Cytokine Assay, the company's first completely configured protein array kit. The fluorescence-based assays measure a panel of 10 cytokines associated with inflammation, and the kit includes nanoarrays of analyte-specific antibodies and controls deposited on 1-inch by 3-inch modified glass slides, where each slide is composed of 18 subarrays with 48 features per array.

"These are kits that are used for in vitro science," Ohayon said of the new releases. "After basic research, users want to see what their results looks like in humans, so those who would be using it would likely be in a translational research center," she said.

Still, each kit has its own target customer group. The cytokine panel is for "use for any disease where there is dysfunction in the immune system," Ohayon said, adding that NanoInk's internal research programs have seen several of the panel's cytokines upregulated in lupus. The angiogenesis panel will allow users to profile proteins involved in that process, she said. The rodent toxicology assay will be useful for NanoInk's pharmaceutical customers who wish to test new drugs in rat or mouse before moving on to trials in humans, Ohayon added.

Meantime, the Alzheimer's panel in development allows researchers to profile two proteins associated with the disease: Abeta 42 and tau. Ohayon said the kit, once ready, could be used to separate individuals with Alzheimer's from others suffering from different neurodegenerative disorders when conducting clinical trials for Alzheimer's therapeutics.

From Instruments to Assays

Founded in 2001, NanoInk launched its BioDiscovery division in December 2008 to commercialize its dip pen nanolithography fabrication technique as a way to produce protein assays. DPN is a method of nanofabrication in which a sharp probe spots a biomolecule onto a surface.

In February 2009, NanoInk BioDiscovery launched a desktop nanoarray fabrication system called the NLP 2000, and in September of that year began offering protein array contract-research services.

The move to offering catalog assays is for NanoInk an extension of its strategy to use its technology as a springboard to markets that neither traditional proteomics approaches nor genomic arrays could reach, according to Ohayon.

"Traditionally, we have been mostly on the instrument side," Ohayon noted.

The company recently placed a desktop nanofabrication system with the University of Strathclyde in the UK (BAN 2/16/2010). To date, NanoInk has placed 80 instruments that use its DPN technology worldwide, though some of the instruments are not designed explicitly for array fabrication.

But beyond the instrument market, the company sees a future in catalog arrays. "We have taken conventional microarrays to the nanoscale," Ohayon said. "Your conventional array spot is anywhere from 100 microns to 300 microns, and that's a pretty big spot," she said. "Our spots are a thousand times smaller than that, and what that allows us, in a typical glass slide, is much more real estate to print many more subarrays."

For instance, NanoInk has a 1x3 inch glass slide in development that contains 96 subarrays. In comparison, some companies that sell genomic arrays, like San Diego-based Illumina, are currently offering 12 subarrays per chip. Ohayon did not provide a timeline for when the 96-plex protein arrays would become available.

Part of the reason NanoInk is eager to design and launch more catalog protein arrays is that the firm perceives a demand for such kits from researchers. According to Bruce Dudzik, senior director for business development at the firm, the market is growing.

"There has always been the promise of proteomics, but now it is being realized," said Dudzik, who was also at the conference in Dublin. "People think that the results they are getting from genomics are not matching what they hoped to achieve in the past."

"We have got to be able to move down and quantitate low-abundance proteins, which [traditional] proteomics abysmally failed at," said Ohayon. "So, that is what the new generation of protein multiplexing assays are looking at, is identifying these low-abundance proteins with higher consistency and not having variability that we had with proteomics."

Ohayon specified that data-analysis issues also have held back traditional proteomics approaches, like mass spectrometry. "The data from mass spec was enormous," said Ohayon, who used to conduct research using the approach. "We needed computers with IBM blade [hard drives] to handle all the information, but the data consistency from run to run was very low," she said. "Quantitative proteomics didn't deliver as we hoped it would."

In contrast, NanoInk believes its approach will win over customers who want to use repeatable catalog or custom protein assays in their research.

"Multiplexing protein technology is very much in demand for the basic researcher, the translational scientist, and the physician who wants to see if a patient has a disease," said Ohayon. "These tools are very much in demand right now."

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