Since the 1980s, molecular biologists and researchers have used a technology called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to perform a variety of genetic tests, including analysis of biopsies to test for cancer. The sensitivity of these tests is limited. Conventional PCR detects mutant-to-normal DNA in ratios of approximately 1/1000, while a single human tissue sample contains millions of DNA strands.
The next generation of this technology—called digital PCR—offers more precise mutation detection by breaking each DNA sample into minute droplets, which are then analyzed individually. In 2011, RainDance Technologies approached EPAM Continuum with a picodroplet platform that could enable researchers to perform a highly sensitive form of digital PCR. Early in the program, RainDance had demonstrated the fundamentals of the technology using experimental techniques in the lab. The next objective: Bring this technology to market as a cost-effective, easy-to-use bench-top system.