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Life Tech Launches 'All-in-One' Digital and Real-Time PCR Platform


Life Technologies today announced the commercial launch of its latest PCR instrumentation platform, the QuantStudio 12K Flex.

The platform, which allows users to perform both low-throughput and high-throughput quantitative and digital PCR on the same sample using the same software interface, is expected to compete directly with offerings from companies such as Fluidigm and Nanostring, Life Tech officials said.

In addition, the system should compete on the digital PCR front with the likes of instruments from QuantaLife, now a part of Bio-Rad, and RainDance Technologies, which expects to launch its digital PCR product in early 2012.

"We've really seen a need in the market for a platform where customers can go through this lower-throughput processing, and when they find data of interest they can scale to a higher throughput, and vice-versa," Gordon Janaway, product manager for real-time PCR reagents at Life Tech, told PCR Insider.

"Today, customers have to go to different platforms to do that, even within the Life Tech product portfolio," Janaway added. "But with this product they'll be able to scale … on the same platform. In the same vein, customers will be able to scale and flex between quantitative PCR and digital PCR."

Life Tech introduced the QuantStudio 12K Flex today at the American Society for Human Genetics annual meeting in Montreal. The company is making the system commercially available to researchers immediately after conducting internal testing, without an early-access period.

"We will basically be selling it on the spot," Vanee Pho, product manager for OpenArray instrumentation, told PCR Insider. "We do have some internal users from our different sites, and due to timing, we will also be engaging some demo test sites at the same time. But the system certainly leverages the best of what [Life Tech] has. So in terms of performance, we're pretty confident."

QuantStudio features the OpenArray technology that Life Tech brought on board when it acquired Biotrove in late 2009. The original OpenArray platform featured an array of 3,072 nanoliter-scale "through-holes" that could be used to perform digital PCR experiments. Combining that technology with IP it acquired along with Cytonix that same year, Life Tech introduced its first digital PCR kit for the OpenArray platform in November 2010 (PCR Insider, 10/4/10).

Besides the OpenArray platform, Life Tech also offers a variety of quantitative real-time PCR systems such as the ViiA 7 (PCR Insider, 4/22/2010) and the Step One and Step One Plus. According to Vanee Pho, product manager for OpenArray instrumentation, the company noticed that many of its customers were buying multiple platforms to perform gene expression experiments at different throughputs.

"Seeing how mid-density [researchers] … have multiple instruments in their labs, they typically either run some experiments on their 96- or 384-well [PCR platforms] to get an idea of what their gene panel is; and then graduate up to OpenArray if they want to start screening tons of samples across these gene panels," Pho said.

"So here, we're enabling the convenience and flexibility of doing that all on one instrument," she added. "We all know that lab space is tight these days, so [researchers] always want some way of consolidating space and getting rid of stuff they don't use often."

To address this, QuantStudio 12K Flex accommodates any one of five different interchangeable blocks – OpenArray plates; TaqMan array cards; and 384-, 96 fast- and 96-well plates – to match the size and type of experiment.

At the digital PCR end of the spectrum, the platform can accommodate four OpenArray plates, thus generating more than 12,000 TaqMan data points per run; or up to 110,000 data points in an eight-hour workday, Life Tech said.

Those figures are similar to the number of data points possible using platforms from Life Tech's most immediate competitor, Fluidigm. However, they pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands or even millions of data points per sample being promised by droplet-based PCR systems from QuantaLife and RainDance.

Despite this, Janaway said that the jury is still out as to whether researchers will ever need that much data from their digital PCR experiments.

"I do think there is an overkill component with RainDance and QuantaLife," he said. "We've been working with several customers who realize they need to actually interrogate more volume, and OpenArray gives you that."

"If you're detecting rare targets … [for example] a low concentration of virus, where qPCR is giving you a late Ct, and it's beyond the limit of detection – then if you have 10 or 15 positive reactions, and you have 100 or 1,000 negatives versus 20,000, your answer or conclusion is still the same. So there's an example where the increased replicates don't buy you any greater performance."

Janaway said that Life Tech and its customers have identified digital PCR sweet spots in applications such as rare target and mutation detection in cancer; and agricultural applications, such as detecting trace amounts of genetically modified content in food.

One of QuantStudio's early customers, Nathan Treff, director of molecular biology at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, will use the platform in research to improve the success of in vitro fertilization.

QuantStudio, Treff said in a statement, "provides an excellent solution for accurate, high-throughput and cost-effective genotyping, which is critical to the success of research in my laboratory. The QuantStudio will simplify our workflow and reduce the amount of time spent on generating data."

QuantStudio can also perform lower-throughput qPCR experiments akin to what researchers can do with a Life Tech ViiA 7, for instance. But Life Tech is not promoting QuantStudio as a replacement for those lower-throughput platforms. Instead, it views the new system as a digital PCR platform first that offers the flexibility of interrogating samples at a lower throughput with richer real-time PCR data.

"Certainly those customers who are using the current OpenArray platform, we would see them upgrading, because this instrument just offers a lot more features," Pho said. "Because of the mid-density nature, and because the core of the platform is OpenArray, I do not see this displacing our other instruments. It's basically a different customer base."

Pho said that QuantStudio 12K Flex will be priced somewhere between $90,000 and $190,000, depending on the configuration.

"In terms of configuration, the OpenArray platform is the highest cost driver, as well as the sample loading that one needs for the OpenArray," Pho said. "In order to actually deliver a 33-nanoliter volume of sample to 3,000 through-holes – that would drive up the cost."

Have topics you'd like to see covered in PCR Insider? Contact the editor at bbutkus [at] genomeweb [.] com.