Need for alternative technologiesMarch 7, 2019
There has been a significant advancement in genomic sequencing technologies with the inception of NextGen Sequencing. However, in India and South Asia, there is a lack of large-scale studies with long-term follow up to understand if there are any South Asian or India-specific genetic markers. The biomarker discovery is largely dependent on biospecimen collection and storage. Even though sequencing costs are coming down, the biospecimen collection, processing, transport and storage systems have remained very complex and costly. The present-day collection systems are not aimed at a single collection plus storage; therefore, processing the collected samples is a necessary step. In many studies which involve collecting samples from different centres, it will involve transportation of the samples on dry ice. Furthermore, after the samples are received, they need immediate transfer into liquid nitrogen tanks or into deep freezers. Long term maintenance of these storage systems is a costly affair.
Therefore, a long-term accessible biorepository is a major bottleneck for such important studies as all biomarkers will need careful evaluation and validation before translating them into clinical practice. I have been in the field of biomedical and biomarker translational research for more than two decades. In my experience, apart from other factors, a proper biorepository with low-cost maintenance is of high importance, with special emphasis on low cost. In my previous organization, a large-scale clinical biomarker study was started. With a lot of effort from several clinical and scientific groups, more than 12,000 biospecimens were collected over a decade. However, these samples were extremely difficult to maintain due to the spiraling costs of maintenance of freezers, manpower and power. Therefore, it became very evident that if we were to conduct any meaningful genomic studies, we need alternative technologies which can truly help research and reduce the costs.
The molecular diagnostics market is expanding at a good pace, but if we are to make the genome more amenable for regular diagnostics, it is very important to reduce costs and develop technologies for the Indian community. At the same time, these technologies should always be compared to existing methods and must be validated for several downstream applications. Apart from different applications, the suitability to different tissue types is also very important as specific tissues need preservation. An ideal technology will be that which can be used to collect the biospecimens, and without any major processing, can be used for long-term storage at room temperature or ambient temperature. This technology can truly bring a revolution in the progress in genomic studies in India and enable sequencing research and diagnostics to be carried out more robustly. Our new institute, Institute for Applied Research and Innovation (InARI), has been working on such a technology called “Insta-Preserve RT”, which we are now ready to bring into the market.