Microarray tool vendor SciGene has developed a new microsample incubation system that it will ship to early adopters this quarter ahead of a full launch later this year.
CEO Jim Stanchfield told BioArray News that the system, called the Hyb-Ice, is a "next-generation product" that improves upon the firm's existing Hybex incubation system in terms of flexibility and performance.
Stanchfield also said that the privately held Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company is benefitting from the growing adoption of chromosomal microarray analysis among cytogeneticists.
Nine-year-old SciGene is positioned to take advantage of growing chromosomal array use. The company manufactures equipment for Affymetrix, BlueGnome, and Illumina, all three of which offer arrays for constitutional and cancer cytogenetics research.
Specifically, SciGene makes Hybex incubation systems that are compatible with Affy and Illumina protocols, as well as a version of its Little Dipper Processor system that is designed for Affy's customers. It also makes ClearLab hybridization and wash systems for BlueGnome's arrays. Most of the company's chips are manufactured by Agilent Technologies (BAN 7/5/2011).
Stanchfield noted that Illumina sells the Hybex for both array and next-generation sequencing sample preparation.
Another partner is Oxford Gene Technology, which also sells a menu of arrays for cytogenetics research. In 2009, UK-based OGT became a European distributor for SciGene's products (BAN 11/3/2009).
SciGene launched the Hybex incubation system in 2005. The system is used for incubating and washing arrays. It consists of a heating base with two humidified chambers that hold removable racks for incubating up to 16 slides. After incubation, racks are removed from the chambers for manual slide washing or transferred to the Little Dipper Processor for automated washing and drying, according to the firm. SciGene also sells a waterbath insert for heating wash buffers or other applications.
Stanchfield described Hybex as a "very simple but highly precise" heating system for plates and tubes to be used in various labeling procedures, but noted that the tool has been on the market for the past seven years and was ready for an upgrade.
The new Hyb-Ice maintains the same benchtop footprint as the older Hybex, but includes various new features, said Stanchfield.
For instance, like the Hybex, the Hyb-Ice has a heated lid and can heat samples, typically at 37, 65, or 99 degrees Celsius. Unlike the Hybex, the Hyb-Ice can also be programmed to cool samples. "You can take your samples from 37 degrees to 65 degrees and then drop to four degrees to hold it," Stanchfield said.
SciGene is positioning the Hyb-Ice as an alternative to thermal cyclers that laboratories currently employ for enzymatic sample labeling, isothermal amplification, and other applications. Stanchfield said that researchers could opt for the new system "instead of buying a dedicated thermal cycler and then using it for non-PCR applications and tying up a very expensive piece of equipment.
"This meets the needs of labs that are doing non-PCR and similar types of profiles," said Stanchfield. "You don't have to spend the money on a thermal cycler, and you have the flexibility of changing the tube formats."
Stanchfield did not discuss pricing for the Hyb-Ice. The Hybex is currently listed at $3,375 on the firm's website. Thermal cycler prices vary depending on features and throughput. For example, Bio-Rad Laboratories T-100 thermal cycler is $4,995 while Eppendorf's Mastercycler ep realplex costs $37,125, according to its website.
Stanchfield touted Hyb-Ice's heating and cooling module and removable tubes and plates as advantages over thermal cyclers.
"The people who would be most interested in using this are the ones who would be running everyday standard types of labeling reactions for labeling DNA, and they are tying up thermal cyclers instead of using a simple piece of equipment like this," said Stanchfield. "We think there is a real need for this kind of wedge product in the market, where people have been using thermal cyclers needlessly."
Stanchfield said that the Hyb-Ice is currently in the latter stages of development. SciGene plans to work with early-access customers to finalize the product's software. The company is also working with array companies, including Affy and Illumina, to "validate the piece of equipment and their particular protocols."
While microarrays are usually viewed as a mature technology, Stanchfield said that SciGene has seen an increase in demand for its automated systems among cytogeneticists who offer CMA.
"When labs are getting to the point where they need automation, they come to us, because we understand it," he said.
Specifically, SciGene is looking to benefit from an increase in array-based prenatal testing. In recent months, such testing has gotten a boost from the conclusion of the first round of a National Institutes of Health-funded study that found that arrays are more informative than traditional, microscope slide-based karyotyping in identifying constitutional abnormalities (BAN 2/14/2012). In addition, a special issue of Prenatal Diagnosis published this month provided case studies and guidelines for array-based prenatal testing (BAN 4/10/2012).
Stanchfield estimated that the prenatal testing market is about three times the size of the postnatal constitutional genetics market. He also estimated that the market for array-based cancer cytogenetics testing could be 10 times to 20 times bigger than the prenatal market.
"The prenatal [market] is ramping up quickly," Stanchfield said. "A lot of labs already have a Little Dipper Processor, which replaces headcount," he said. "Because when you get up to running 60 or more patient samples a week, it makes no sense to do it manually."
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