The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique is under constant pressure to meet the needs of the modern life science and healthcare markets. Innovations over the last thirty years have brought significant advances to help maintain an ability to outperform most competing technologies. As a result, technological developments behind the current fast PCR techniques have dramatically decreased PCR run-times from around 3 hours to about 30 minutes through a combination of protocol changes, fast instruments, and fast reagents. However, this may still not be fast enough for certain applications and markets.
The timely diagnosis and precise identification of infectious agents remains an ever-present challenge for healthcare and biosecurity professionals. Detection of such agents is possible through a range of assays including culture-based tests and immunoassays but PCR-based assays are often used for the fast, sensitive, and specific detection of pathogens. Short time-to-result is of paramount importance as delays can have serious consequences with regards to both the appropriate treatment of the infected and the containment of secondary spread. The drive for point-of-care (PoC) diagnostic systems demands results in minutes.
The current generation of conventional peltier-based thermal cyclers may not meet future needs. Much effort has gone into solutions to improve sample and block ramp rates to reduce the heating and cooling lag periods in the per cycle time of the PCR protocols. Despite this most “fast”, lab-based thermal cyclers attain sample ramp rates only a few-to-several-fold faster than that of their standard counterparts. More advanced microfluidic/microPCR systems achieve far higher ramp rates and much shorter per cycle times but only when used with nanolitre reaction volumes and technologically advanced reaction vessels which may restrict their application. What if there was an ultra-rapid PCR technology which could provide lab-based thermal cyclers and PoC devices with the extremely high ramp rates and very short cycle times of microfluidic PCR systems but used the far larger reaction volumes typical of conventional PCR systems and standard, low-cost plastics and reagents?
Integration of the Photonase technology into next generation thermal cyclers and PoC molecular diagnostic systems could significantly decrease PCR run times to as low as 3 minutes, making such ultra-rapid systems ideal not only for life science research labs but also for medical PoC applications, and biosecurity screening procedures.
Photonase has patented a novel method of heating PCR which directly couples heat into the reactant mixture producing an almost instant temperature increase rise along with uniform heating throughout the reactant mixture. Cooling times are also reduced in this methodology due to the low thermal mass in comparison to the conventional indirect heating techniques.
· The Photonase next generation PCR technology provides significantly higher ramp rates than that of existing PCR systems, resulting in microfluidic PCR cycle time performance with a wide range of amplicon sizes and reaction volumes.
· The Photonase technology will allow ultra-rapid PCR to be performed with common, low-cost PCR consumables. No need for specialised or proprietary plates, tubes, or microfluidic chips which may command premium prices.
· Further development of the Photonase technology may allow novel PCR chemistries for enhanced performance.
· The Photonase technology may provide the potential to develop portable, low power PCR-based PoC diagnostic systems for a range of environments and applications.
Markets and Applications
The global PCR market is projected to reach around US$27.4 billion by 2015, with PCR-based diagnostics expecting particularly rapid growth. The ability to conduct very sensitive, highly specific, and very rapid testing is important to:
· Identifying infectious disease and cancer in the healthcare market.
· Advanced safety and quality assurance in the food and agricultural markets.
· Environmental testing in industrial markets.
· Identifying bioterrorism agents in biotreat markets.
Photonase and Health Technologies at Strathclyde are seeking an industrial collaborator to accelerate integration of the technology into PCR systems.