• Same sample Multi-Biomarker Data Extraction enables Analytical Test leap
    Pictured from front to back: Josh Edel, Alex Ivanov, Caroline Koch and Ben Reilly-O’Donnell. (Credit: ICL)

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Same sample Multi-Biomarker Data Extraction enables Analytical Test leap

Oct 10 2023

A new nanopore sequencing and DNA barcoding method with the ability to map dozens of biomarkers of different types at the same time could transform testing for conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Current diagnostic tests look for one biomarker (such as a protein or other small molecule) or, at most, a couple of biomarkers of the same type. The new method(1) developed by scientists at Imperial College London in collaboration with Oxford Nanopore technologies can simultaneously examine proteins, small molecules like neurotransmitters and miRNA from the same clinical sample, providing comprehensive data for a more precise diagnosis.

Co-first author Caroline Koch, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: "There are many different ways you can arrive at heart failure, but our test will hopefully provide a low-cost and rapid way to find this out and help guide treatment options. This kind of result is possible with less than a millilitre of blood. It's also a very adaptable method so that by changing the target biomarkers it could be used to detect the characteristics of diseases including cancer and neurodegenerative conditions."

Co-first author Ben Reilly-O'Donnell, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial, added: "The ability to monitor different types of molecules at the same time, in the same sample, offers a distinct advantage over traditional analysis methods.

Blood samples mixed with DNA 'barcodes' were injected into a low-cost handheld device previously developed by Oxford Nanopore – the MinION, which, through an array of nanopores, is able to read the electrical signature from each DNA barcode that passes through them. This electrical signal is interpreted by a machine-learning algorithm to identify the type and concentration of each biomarker present in the sample.

Lead researcher Professor Joshua Edel, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: "Working with Oxford Nanopore Technologies, we have been able to take their existing platform and innovate how it can be used, with the addition of DNA barcodes and machine learning to understand the results."

Co-lead researcher Dr Alex Ivanov, also from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: "In principle, we are close to enabling a technology being suitable for clinics, where, in the long run, we hope it could provide a wealth of individualised information for patients with a range of conditions."

After showing that this method can successfully measure 40 miRNA molecules in healthy patient blood, the team are now working with clinical samples from heart failure patients to validate the results. Regular testing like this could also help clinicians establish their individual patient baselines for common blood biomarkers.

1 Published in Nature Nanotechnology

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