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QuantumDx Leading $4.5M UK-Supported Project to Develop Rapid Molecular Tumor Profiling Device

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QuantumDx is heading a UK-based public-private partnership to develop a chip-based molecular profiling tool for diagnosing and staging cancer, and potentially guiding oncology treatments.

The £2.8 million ($4.5 million), three-year project will use £1.4 million from the UK's Biomedical Catalyst group and a matching amount of funding from QuantumDx to develop the platform, which QuantumDx said will enable users to profile a tumor for hundreds of DNA targets in less than 20 minutes.

The new device, currently called Q-Cancer, will for the most part leverage many of the same technologies that the company has been integrating into another device called Q-POC that is intended primarily for point-of-care molecular testing of infectious diseases (PCR Insider, 10/13/2011).

"The Q-Cancer device will, by and large, use the same underlying DNA extraction, PCR, [and] nanowire detection/sequencing technologies as our Q-POC but optimized for a cancer assay," Maggie Love, research and development coordinator for QuantumDx, told PCR Insider in an email. "It will integrate a brand new novel sample prep technology to break up the tumor samples, which are anticipated to be all shapes, sizes, densities, et cetera."

All of these technologies will be integrated into a small benchtop system as opposed to the handheld Q-POC to accommodate this anticipated variety of tumor samples.

"However, ultimately we expect to engineer the sample prep technology to be accommodated within our handheld device," Love noted.

With the Q-Cancer device, QuantumDx envisions extracting DNA from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded or fresh tumor tissue, then carrying out a "series of modular amplification steps … to concentrate rare mutations within the tumor tissue," Love said. "These amplicons will be detected using our nanowire biosensor."

QuantumDx, based in Newcastle, UK, disclosed in 2011 that it had exclusively licensed from Nanosys the right to use nanowire field effect transistor biosensors in biomarker detection and sequencing applications.

The nanowire technology was originally developed in the laboratory of Harvard University chemistry professor Charles Lieber, a Nanosys co-founder. Target-specific nucleotides can be bound to an array of the nanowires to detect PCR-amplified target nucleic acids, and the nanowires can then sense these binding events and instantly convert them into electronic signals.

QuantumDx also owns the rights to several proprietary molecular biology, chemistry, and microfluidic technologies that it is integrating with the nanowire sensors to develop testing devices. These proprietary technologies include a rapid DNA extraction technology based on sorbent filters and microfluidics, and a DNA fractionation method.

In a statement, QuantumDx CEO Elaine Warburton said that the QuantumDx platform will be able to "break up a sample and extract the DNA in under five minutes, carry out 25- to 30-cycle PCR in under 10 minutes, and detect hundreds of DNA targets within minutes."

Love said that due to the early nature of the Q-Cancer project, the research group has not yet fully defined which cancer targets to pursue. "However we will train it on the main cancer markers including KRAS, BRAF, TP53, P13KCA, UGT1A1, PTEN, CYP2D6, EGFR, and CKIT," she said. "Q-Cancer can test for up to 100 different markers in a single cassette, so we are certainly not limited here."

Also participating in the Biomedical Catalyst-supported project are scientists from the Universities of Newcastle and Sheffield, who will lend nanotechnology and chemistry expertise, respectively.

Other project participants will include Leaders in Oncology Limited, which will provide specialist oncology expertise and cancer networks; Magna Parva, which will assist with sample prep; and The Technology Partnership, which will help with design and engineering aspects.

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