The new assay allows the sensitive and specific expression profiling of miRNA from very small amounts of sample (100ng of total RNA) and Agilent believes this new application for their platform will help it gain an even bigger market share of the $800m (€594m) genomics sector.
There are approximately 500 human miRNAs, which are a class of small non-coding RNAs that are only 19-30 nucleotides long, and they are believed to regulate approximately 30 per cent of all human genes.
Distinct miRNA expression patterns have recently been associated with various types of cancer as well as playing a role in regulating cell development, metabolism and viral infections.
"There is a lot of interest [in miRNA] from pharmaceutical companies because they are trying to discover both the mode of action of a drug and how that could potentially affect the expression of a cell which may be being regulated by the miRNA," said Yvonne Linney, general manager for genomics at Agilent.
According to, Linney interest in miRNA has exploded over the last five years. She told LabTechnologist.com that a search for microRNA and miRNA in the PubMed database showed that there was only one publication on miRNA in 2001 compared with over 600 in 2006.
"I think there is a great opportunity with miRNA for us to get into new markets and the benefit of our microarray system over others is that there isn't actually an enormous upfront cost to get started," said Linney
"We are the first major microarray company to come out with a miRNA assay," she continued.
According to Linney, a key advantage of the system is in the sample preparation which allows the use of total RNA, removing the need to separate out the miRNA - a process which can lead to very low yields and be very time consuming.
Another benefit for users is that the SurePrint system will allow the addition of new miRNA probes to future arrays as the miRNA are discovered.
"We will be coming out with future products which identify non-human species, so we'll have other model organism species such as mouse rat etc in our next version as well as updating the human content as more get identified and with the flexible SurePrint system that we have it is very easy for us to add new ones and come out with the next version of the array," she said.
"A future plan will be to put miRNA probes into our Earray database so that people can print their own custom arrays."
Meanwhile, the microarray market is growing at approximately 10 per cent a year and Chris van Ingen, president of Aglient's Life Science and Chemical Analysis (LSCA) division believes this is expected to continue.
"As the research advances there is a need for more tools and I think you will see a proliferation of these applications and the advantage we have with our platform is that we can print whatever our customers want - and the closer you are to your customers the better you will be able to align your research programs to their interests" said van Ingen.
"The strategic intent of the business is focussed on the pharmaceutical and biotech markets as well as academia and we are continuously scanning what issues our customers, the researchers, are facing and what we can do to support them."
While the miRNA assay is targeted at helping researchers discover more about the role that miRNAs play in the regulation of biological processes, it may eventually lead to diagnostic tests like other assays that Agilent are currently involved with.
"One of the key strategies of the LSCA is to fundamentally leverage our research platforms into the diagnostic space where we can - the first one is the microfluidics platform which is being used as a cholesterol test and the second is looking at the microarray platform," said van Ingen.
This focus on diagnostics has been recently demonstrated by the announcement of Agilent's $246m acquisition of Stratagene, a provider of a range diagnostic products that include applications for allergy testing, autoimmune disorders and urinalysis.
Stratagene also supply products and reagents to life science customers in the molecular biology, genomics, proteomics, drug discovery and toxicology fields. Interestingly, they also supply various RNA purification kits that would fit perfectly with the miRNA assay as well as the rights to over 150 miRNA sequences licensed from the Max Planck Institute.
The acquisition of Stratagene is expected to broaden the customer base of both companies and increase Agilent's market share of the total Life Sciences market, estimated at $14bn to over 6 per cent.
Following the merger, Stratagene staff are expected to join Agilent's Life Science Solutions unit with Joseph Sorge, Stratagene CEO and founder, forming a new company that will buy certain assets back from Agilent following the close of the sale for $6.6m.