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Study Shows Thermo Fisher's PikoReal Thermal Cycler Ideal for Mobile Biothreat Detection


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A recent study has shown that the portable PikoReal PCR platform from Thermo Fisher Scientific is faster than a standard lab-based platform, and may be suitable for biothreat monitoring in the field.

Thermo Fisher is developing other product lines specifically for in vitro diagnostic use, but continues to support the hundreds of customers who have adopted the PikoReal platform, Damien Luk, director of product management in the genetic sciences division for Thermo Fisher Scientific, told GenomeWeb in an interview this week.

Thermo currently sells four key families of qPCR platforms, best represented by the QuantStudio Dx, Applied Biosystems 7500, PikoReal, and the newly-launched QuantStudio 3 and 5, Luk said. These come in various makes, models, sizes, looks, and feels, he said.

The PikoReal was part of a collection of reagents and products Thermo acquired along with Espoo, Finland-based Finnzymes in 2010, establishing the firm's initial position in the PCR instruments arena.

Thermo officially debuted PikoReal in 2011, along with a cousin instrument from Finnzyme, the Arktik thermal cycler. The Piko platform is also part of the SureTect food pathogen detection system the company launched two years ago.

Now, the PikoReal is "available globally and we've deployed hundreds of them," Luk said.

In addition, when Thermo completed its buy of Life Technologies last year, it also picked up PCR technology marketed under its Applied Biosystems brand, as well as the QuantStudio line, as previously reported.

In the new PikoReal study, published earlier this month in the Journal of Microbiological Methods, researchers measured sensitivity and specificity of assays for the biothreat agents Francisella tularensis, Bacullus anthracis, and Yersinia pestis.

The researchers, who were based in Finland but not affiliated with Thermo, also took the PikoReal out into the field to assay the livers of mice and voles for tularemia-causing bacteria.

Overall, they found the platform was as sensitive and specific as the ABI 7300, a predecessor of the 7500. The PikoReal was also twice as fast, producing results in the lab in 50 minutes. Testing in the field required 45 minutes more for pre-PCR and extraction steps, so took a total of 95 minutes.

"The PikoReal technology presents a strong candidate for further development to support more common public health diagnostic needs, such as respiratory disease-causing agents in primary health care settings," the researchers concluded.

"This lightweight and compact system allows rapid and sensitive detection of selected agents, and can be deployed outside of specialized diagnostic laboratories, rendering specimen transportation obsolete, and thereby greatly reducing time requirements and exposure risks," they said.

The authors also noted that, compared to other portable systems, the PikoReal facilitates multiplexing, absolute and relative quantification, and melt curve analysis.

Interestingly, they compared the PikoReal to another Thermo product. This was likely done to accentuate the mobility and performance of the PikoReal, Luk suggested, relative to gold-standard lab equipment.

In terms of biothreat detection specifically, Luk pointed out that the Applied Biosystems 7500 is deployed globally, and has been adopted by many government agencies. Public health labs, many of which claim the ABI 7500 in their arsenals, can be engaged in the event of a biothreat as part of the Laboratory Network for Biological Terrorism

Luk, who was previously affiliated with qPCR platforms at Applied Biosystems for about a decade, noted the study nicely draws attention to PikoReal, but added, "we also continue to evolve and develop next-generation products," within the Thermo PCR portfolio.

Specifically, the new QuantStudio 3 and QuantStudio 5 are much smaller than the 7500, Luk said, adding that they "address the next generation of instrumentation and system needs that we believe are going to be vital in terms of portability and use."

Thermo currently has no intent to seek FDA approval for the PikoReal, he said.

"We don't have plans to create an IVD platform for the PikoReal because we already have a number of IVD platforms," Luk explained. "We see the future of IVD platforms, in terms of the next-generation products, as being more advanced and easier to use."