Popularity of the pocket-sized gene-sequencing device continues to prove that DNA testing away from clinical laboratories in remote clinics and outlying field laboratories is not just possible, but in some cases preferable
Once again, Oxford Nanopore Technologies (ONT) is demonstrating how next-generation gene sequencing technology can make it cheaper, simpler, and faster to sequence without the need for big clinical laboratories. And its successful raising of $180 million to expand development worldwide shows the support it has with capital funding investors.
Dark Daily has repeatedly reported on the development of the UK-based company’s point-of-care DNA sequencer going back to 2011. Called MinION, we predicted in 2015, that once brought to market, the pocket-sized gene sequencing machine “could help achieve the NIH’s goal of $1,000 human genome sequencing and, in remote clinics and outbreak zones, shift testing away from medical laboratories.” (See Dark Daily, “Point-of-Care DNA Sequencer Inching Closer to Widespread Use as Beta-Testers Praise Oxford Technologies’ Pocketsize, Portable Nanopore Device,” November 4, 2015.)
Since then, MinION’s use worldwide “for a number of biological analysis techniques including de novo sequencing, targeted sequencing, metagenomics, epigenetics, and more” has only expanded, according to multiple sources and ONT’s website.
How Does MinION Work as a Gene Sequencer?
The MinION nanopore sequencing device weighs about 100 grams (less than four ounces), is about the size of a standard deck of cards, operates off a laptop USB plug, and can sequence genetic material in a matter of minutes.
To perform the nanopore sequencing, a strand of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA) is pushed through small pores in a membrane. An ionic current is then applied to the material and voltage is implemented to measure any disruptions in the current. The resulting measurement represents an electrical signal that is converted to human-readable sequence.
Why is MinION Important?
One advantage to this technology is that it has the ability to sequence much longer strands of DNA when compared to existing technologies. The MinION can sequence over a million letters or bases, around 2% of a DNA strand or chromosome with 96% or above accuracy. The device can read remarkably long stretches of consecutive DNA letters. Readouts of several thousand letters are common and the record for the MinION is 882,000 consecutive DNA letters, Technology Review noted.
“One of the most important findings of this research was that, even though the human genome reference was completed or thought to have been completed a while ago, it still contains many missing pieces and we were able to close some of those gaps in the sequence by developing a new method for developing these extremely long reads using nanopore sequencing,” Nick Loman, PhD, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics at the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, UK, told Pharmaphorum. Loman worked on research with Oxford Nanopore on nanopore sequencing.
“We’ve gone from a situation where you can only do genome sequencing for a huge amount of money in well-equipped labs to one where we can have genome sequencing literally in your pocket just like a mobile phone,” Loman told BBC News. “That gives us a really exciting opportunity to start having genome sequencing as a routine tool, perhaps something people can do in their own home.”
Using MinION in the Field
According to the Oxford Nanopore website, the MinION:
- Is pocket-sized and portable;
- Has up to 512 nanopore channels;
- Has a simple 10-minute sample preparation time;
- Allows real-time analysis for rapid and efficient results; and,
- Is adaptable to direct DNA or RNA sequencing.
The MinION Starter Pack is available for purchase on the company’s website with prices starting at $1,000. The kit includes:
- The MinION device;
- Flow cells;
- Sequencing kits;
- Wash kits; and,
- MinION community support.
Researchers at The Kinghorn Center for Clinical Genomics at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Darlinghurst, Australia, are currently using the MinION for research purposes.
“I think it’s really expanding the arsenal of tools we have to peer into cell biology and the root causes of cancer and various diseases,” Dr. Martin Smith, Head of Genomic Technologies at the center, told Australian Financial Review. “It’s really just starting to open the lid off the jar and peer more deeply into the genomics of the cell.”
Dr. Sanghera hopes the gadget could be utilized in the future to identify common infections at home and help consumers avoid unnecessary trips to doctors, clinics, and hospitals, and avert the misuse and overuse of prescription medications. He also feels MinION has applications outside the healthcare industry, such as detecting the presence of harmful microbes in food and water supplies.
As gadgets like MinION become more popular, the potential to move DNA sequencing closer to the patient (and out of the core lab) has implications for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups. However, core labs would still be a preferred source to collect the raw data, store that data, then do the annotation of the DNA sequences and report the findings to the referring physician.