Okay, so not the most exciting of blog post titles but hear me out because this is some pretty amazing technology that I am about to talk about here…
Imagine a day when it will be possible to pick up a small, handheld device and with it rapidly and reliably sequence your entire genetic code, or even that of your favourite pet. “To what end?” I hear you say. Well, the promise of personalised medicine is one that has been on the horizon for many years and the technology that one Oxford company and team of researchers is engaging in is casting some light on the very exciting future that we may be facing. The principle of personalised medicine, as I understand it, is to use the information that is unique to you, ie your DNA, or genetic code, in order to identify the risks of you developing certain conditions or diseases and either specifically intervening to halt or manage such eventualities or, in the case of a disease state developing, such as cancer, using both your own genetic blueprint and that of the disease causing entity in order to select, or even design, tailored, targeted and ultimately more effective and reliable treatments. The prospect of being able to take a cancer cell, sequencing it’s DNA and identifying which drugs are most likely to be highly effective at eradicating the tumour, whilst drastically reducing, or possibly even eliminating, side-effects is one that is simply too important to ignore. But how could this be possible?
One company based in Oxford, and borne out of the research efforts of Professor Hagan Bailey of Oxford University, is leading the field in the development and application of nanopore technology to sequence individual molecules, such as DNA, and determine their exact composition. This is achieved through the use of a specially engineered protein nanopore set into a layer, either of lipid (like our own cells), or a synthetic material, such as graphene, and through which a molecule such as DNA is passed. This is a little like a train passing through a mountain by way of a tunnel. The really clever part is the way this apparently simple process of passing the DNA through the pore can sequence the strand and tell us the exact order of bases.
A current flows through the layer containing the nanopore and the passing of the DNA molecule causes disruptions in the current flow, with specific, characteristic disruptions attributable to each of the four bases making up the DNA sequence. By recording these unique current disruptions the technology is able to identify the bases and the exact order in which
they pass through the pore, and thus sit within the DNA strand. In other words, it is possible to sequence DNA in real-time. Very exciting!
What about veterinary applications? Of course the main uses of this promising new technology would be expected to be applied in human medicine initially but it is highly likely that veterinarians will be able to make use of it as well. Potential applications obviously include veterinary research, disease monitoring, therapeutic uses, such as treatment selections in cases of disease states such as cancer, and much more besides. Rapid and reliable ‘kennel-side’ analysis using a simple handheld device like the one alluded to in the opening paragraph may very well be a reality in the not too distant future. Exciting times indeed!
For more information on Oxford Nanopore Technology and their exciting work visit their website at www.nanoporetech.com.
This is a good blog by someone who really knows what they’re talking about – a real life geneticist. Click here to read.