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‘Simple but elegant’ system
February 2009
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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DALLAS—In a deal announced in early January, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center will use WaferGen Biosystems Inc.'s SmartChip Real-Time PCR System, a gene expression platform currently in development, to identify and validate gene expression biomarkers related to wound healing.

The deal, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, has benefits for both parties. Dr. Spencer Brown, director of research at UT Southwestern's Nancy Lee and Perry Bass Advanced Wound Healing Laboratory, says researchers believe that it could unearth specific genes associated with wound healing and enable them to examine the impact the identified biomarkers have on patients' response to treatment, eventually leading to the development of novel treatments for wound healing.

"We believe the experiments that will be enabled by the clinical validation of the SmartChip system will significantly assist in advancing our research into the field of wound healing and may potentially play a role in impacting the development of treatments in this area," Brown says. "We are very impressed with the potential of the SmartChip Real-Time PCR System's innovative capabilities and are eager to initiate our gene expression research programs with this breakthrough platform."

For WaferGen, the collaboration marks the next phase of the development of SmartChip, which recently completed alpha testing at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UT Southwestern will be SmartChip's first beta testing site, says WaferGen Chairman and CEO Alnoor Shivji. According to WaferGen, SmartChip promises to deliver significant speed and cost advantages to researchers in the gene expression and genotyping markets. The company estimates the genetic analysis market alone had approximately $2.4 billion in worldwide revenues in 2006 and estimates total global revenue for this market will reach approximately $5 billion by 2012.

"This collaboration is an important milestone for WaferGen as it serves as a powerful validation for our SmartChip Real-Time PCR System and the value it offers to the research community," Shivji says. "In addition to establishing us as a key platform provider in discovery and validation, it also gives us access to these unique biomarkers for various diseases. We could license or commercialize those biomarkers ourselves."

SmartChip is designed as the first whole-genome, high-throughput gene expression real-time PCR platform. The system will feature content-ready chips with gene panels optimized for cancer, toxicology and whole-genome and be pre-loaded with some of the reaction components. WaferGen says the system will only require a very small sample size as compared to other technologies and platforms and will offer real-time detection and sophisticated readout options while assuring detection sensitivity and temperature uniformity across chips.

"SmartChip Real-Time PCR is a simple but elegant system," Shivki says. "All the customer does is add the sample. One of the main features of SmartChip Real-Time PCR is that it's the only platform out there that will enable you to do a whole genome. There are microarrays that produce whole-genome capabilities, but the problem is that the performance is not the same because they can only detect highly expressive genes. SmartChip Real-Time PCR can detect typically low-expressive genes, allowing both discovery and validation by picking up all genes of interest."

SmartChip could help the UT Southwestern research team identify a wide range of biomarkers that could have implications from basic scar healing to cancer research, Shivji says.

"This area of research is something that is very interesting to VA hospitals and medical centers, many of which UT Southwestern works closely with," he says.  "We're very excited about the partnership, and I believe the outcome will be great for both of us."
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