Integrated Biology Approach
"For the last five years, we have been focusing on gene expression," says Barney Saunders, Ph.D., senior director, life science technology and strategy. "But gene expression alone is not enough to accelerate drug discovery. We found that our customers were, increasingly, wanting to take an integrated systems approach to research, putting together information from DNA, RNA, proteins, and the cell itself."
This is why Agilent is now embarking on an integrated biology strategy. Recently, it set up a business unit dedicated to developing technology platforms and informatics solutions which will enable researchers to do experiments they previously could not.
"Researchers now want to address key biological questions using more than one form of measurement," says Dr. Saunders. "In cancer, for example, the arrays we have developed let you look at transcription factors on a genome-wide basis and also at expression signatures. This means being able to take a more effective look at whole pathways in cancer."
Another important example of an integrated biology approach is comparative genome hybridization (CGH), which can identify multiple and missing chromosomes of segments in a cancer genome. Agilent will introduce an integrated solution for array-based CGH, working with partners such as the Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris, where the technique is being used to develop a more personalized approach to breast cancer, predicting metastasis and treatment response.
The researchers, led by Gilbert Lenoir, are hoping to define a molecular signature of metastasis for melanoma, thyroid, and breast cancers. "We believe the integrated solution for CGH will be a real breakthrough in cancer diagnosis that can be applied to many other genetic diseases," explains Dr. Saunders.
Another recent development from Agilent is the first tool to measure RNA quality and grade it on a quantitative scale from one to ten. The measurement, known as the RNA integrity number (RIN), will enable new investigations in cancer and cardiovascular therapeutics.
The 5100 ALP allows high quality analysis of PCR fragments for the first time, and Christian Maercker, Ph.D., head of the screening and expression profiling group at the German Resource Center for Genome Research in Heidelberg, Germany, describes how powerful this can be in a range of DNA applications. His lab is currently processing around 800 samples a day and has clear reproducibility of data in projects where quality control is seen as vital.
These include production of cDNA microarrays, looking for the full open-reading frame of the genome, and exploring siRNAs. "The high throughput of the 5100 is much appreciated," he says. "It saves time, is more reproducible than gel electrophoresis, and is strongly recommended for high throughput analysis of PCR fragments."