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Wafergen Taps Ghent University as Early-Access Customer for SmartChip Real-Time PCR System

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This article was originally posted on March 16.

Wafergen said this week that Ghent University in Belgium has signed a research collaboration with the company and has become an early-access customer for its SmartChip real-time PCR system.

Ghent University becomes at least the ninth early-access customer for the SmartChip system as the company prepares to commercially launch the platform later this year.

Just last week, Wafergen named eight early-access customers, including universities and service providers in the US and Japan, for SmartChip; and said that the SmartChip thermal cycler and nanodispenser components received CE Mark certification in Europe and Japan (see PCR Insider, 3/10/2010).

The latest collaboration with Ghent University represents "growing recognition of our SmartChip Real-Time PCR System as a valuable gene-analysis tool that will ultimately lead to more affordable targeted therapies," Wafergen Chairman and CEO Alnoor Shivji said in a statement.

Shivji added that Ghent University is the company's fifth "top-tier research collaborator," and that the university will use the SmartChip platform to study childhood cancer and other diseases.

Under the terms of the collaboration, Ghent University will receive a SmartChip system by the end of this month, Wafergen said.

Researchers at the university, led by Professor Jo Vandesompele, are working to validate a biomarker signature for neuroblastoma to aid in detection and therapy. They will also use the SmartChip human microRNA gene panel to evaluate various disease states; develop new applications for the SmartChip platform; and collaborate to develop and evaluate software for real-time PCR data analysis.

Cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment are important potential clinical applications of microRNA profiling, Wafergen said. The company's human microRNA expression profiling service will use human genes from version 14.0 of the miRBase sequence database. The SmartChip human microRNA panel provides more than 800 microRNAs on a single SmartChip to enable discovery of disease-specific microRNAs, the company said.

WaferGen and Ghent University scientists believe that the research may help validate a prognostic gene signature for neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer with a widely variable clinical course. By measuring a signature on the SmartChip platform, scientists could provide physicians with new tools for earlier discovery or help with selection of appropriate treatments, the company said.

"We are eager to integrate the high-throughput quantitative benefits of SmartChip real-time PCR into our functional genomics research programs," Vandesompele said in a statement.

Vandesompele added that SmartChip will allow his lab to study "thousands of genes simultaneously" to identify novel gene signatures or run multiple samples on a single chip to validate the signature of interest.

"This should enable greater accuracy for discovery of biomarkers and decreased time to results," Vandesompele said. "We have identified several projects where we believe that the SmartChip will help us advance our biomarker research. What we have lacked is a platform that can give us the flexibility to be used for discovery and validation with real-time PCR performance."

Vandesompele is also CEO of Biogazelle, a 2007 spinout of Ghent University developing products and services for real-time PCR data analysis. It is unclear whether Biogazelle and Wafergen will collaborate as a result of the agreement with Vandesompele's Ghent University lab.

Wafergen is providing early access to SmartChip through two routes: through contract gene expression profiling services at its Fremont, Calif., headquarters; and by placing systems in the laboratories of early-access partners.

The company previously said that it is receiving revenue from both arrangements, as well as feedback regarding the system's performance. It is unclear whether Wafergen is receiving revenue from the partnership with Ghent University.

Wafergen's other early-access customers include Stanford University, University of California at San Francisco, University of Pittsburgh, University of Southern California, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, two undisclosed Japanese organizations, and an undisclosed US biotech company.

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