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NEC Prepping Portable DNA ID Platform for Launch into Forensics Space

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – In advance of a planned launch next year, NEC recently announced the completion of a field trial for its DNA platform for forensics applications.

Last month, the Tokyo-based IT and network technologies company said that it and NEC New Zealand, along with the Institute of Environmental Science & Research, had carried out field research to assess NEC's Portable DNA Analyzer, or P-DNA Analyzer, currently under development for identifying human DNA for personal identification purposes.

The goal of the platform evaluation was to determine whether the instrument could more quickly identify criminals, "while maintaining the same level of quality and accuracy of" existing DNA tests, ESR Forensic Development Manager Bjorn Sutherland said in a statement. ESR is a New Zealand government-owned Crown Research Institute that exclusively provides forensic science services to the police force in that country.

In an e-mail, a spokesman for NEC said that the company plans to release a pre-production version of the P-DNA Analyzer for screening use in 2014. It also plans to upgrade the version from screening use to full profiling use for forensics application in 2015.

While a number of firms offer products for DNA extraction using PCR-based technology — including Life Technologies, GE Healthcare, and Promega — P-DNA Analyzer's advantage, he said, would be its portability and rapid turnaround time.

"The concept of the Portable DNA Analyzer is that DNA analysis can rapidly be done by anyone, anywhere," the spokesman said.

"Conventionally, DNA has been analyzed by collecting samples from a crime scene … sending it to a lab, waiting for analysis and determination of a match, then perhaps making an arrest supported by lab results," he said in the e-mail to GenomeWeb Daily News. "The P-DNA eliminates the need to transport samples to laboratories and enables DNA analysis to quickly take place in the field. As a result, the time required to identify a suspect and make an arrest can be significantly reduced."

According to NEC's website, the P-DNA Analyzer, which comprises an analyzer chip, a reagent package, and the analyzer unit, integrates all four steps of the DNA analysis process — DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction, electrophoresis, and short tandem repeat analysis — in one portable platform that can provide results in about 25 minutes.

During the field trial, the system was used to analyze mucous and blood, including liquid, dry, and stain samples, and results were compared to existing ESR reference profiles. In total, 34 samples were analyzed, with each sample analysis taking less than an hour.

Also included in the trial was a saliva sample from the edge of a plastic bottle and mixed buccal samples from two individuals.

The P-DNA Analyzer was also used outside the laboratory to simulate a real-world setting. NEC said that the results from the trial were "very encouraging and represented an important milestone in bringing the P-DNA Analyzer closer to commercial release."

Upon launch, the platform would sell for about 10 million yen, or approximately $100,000, the spokesman said. Initially, the company will focus its marketing efforts on police departments, though another opportunity is laboratories with a backlog of DNA samples for analysis, he added.

In addition to crime scenes, the instrument would have use in settings such as "disaster scenes, clinics, borders, and locations outside a DNA laboratory," the NEC spokesman said. NEC DNA Project Director Minoru Asogawa said in a statement that the technology also has applications in medical treatment, patent identification, and immigration, as well as food, agriculture, and animal pedigree determination.

NEC has not tested the P-DNA Analyzer for life science applications yet. For such work, the reagents and processing steps would need to be improved, the spokesman said. He added, however, that "there is a possibility that we can extend the technology to life science applications."

The focus for now remains on the forensics space, and continuing joint work being conducted with Madison, Wis.-based Promega, which is providing reagents for the P-DNA Analyzer, and Asahi Rubber, which is supporting development of the chip for the instrument, the NEC spokesman said. Fujibo Holdings, Teruo Fujii, a professor at the University of Tokyo, and Japan's National Research Institute of Police Science also are providing input on the development of the platform, he added.