The Team behind RainDrop™ Digital PCR System
Here at RainDance Technologies, we’re fortunate to have a first-rate team of scientists and business people — they are truly the heart of our company. In a series of blog posts, we’ll be profiling some of our team members to give you a glimpse of the talent behind our technology, products, and company.
We start with Cori Milbury, a senior scientist who is testing and optimizing assays for the RainDrop, our digital PCR platform. Cori came to us in 2011 from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
A: I work in the R&D department, specifically in the genomics applications group. I do a lot of assay development, looking at the set of reagents or types of assays we can be putting into the digital PCR platform. As a start, we’re taking assays that have been designed for qPCR and transferring them to the digital platform.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background before you joined RainDance.
A: My background is a little atypical! I started off in marine conservation genetics, looking at the impact of disease pressure on oyster populations. I analyzed different genotypes of oysters and how they would survive in different bays under different disease pressures. We were looking for those few oysters among thousands that carried a specific mitochondrial genotype indicating disease resistance. It was definitely a needle-in-the-haystack investigation. From there I moved over to the human side, looking at cancer genotypes and mutations. Instead of studying populations of organisms, I was studying populations of cells. The needles in the haystack were rare, low-level mutations circulating around the body or evolving heterogeneously within tumors. My transition into RainDance was pretty smooth in terms of applying that knowledge to digital PCR: we’re looking at heterogeneous populations and finding the needles in the haystack, just at a much higher resolution and sensitivity.
Q: It’s still very early days for digital PCR. How does it feel to participate in the beginning of a totally new market?
A: It’s been very exciting to be part of the development of such a powerful technology. It’s really pushing the boundaries of what is significant and relevant. In cancer, it is currently challenging to claim that these rare alleles have significance unless you have the ability to detect them reliably and reproducibly. Now we’re really pushing technology, and mutation detection, to levels where you can actually reach these high sensitivities and really start to draw some conclusions about what may be significant and relevant. Before working hands-on with digital PCR, I honestly didn’t believe it was possible to achieve these sensitivities.
Q: What do you find compelling about digital PCR and its potential for science?
A: With digital PCR, we’ve already surpassed the boundary of what qPCR is capable of in terms of sensitivity. As cancer moves from being viewed as an organ-based disease to more of a molecular pathway-based disease, we’re getting to the point where we can identify particular mutations that drive metastasis and evolution of the cancer genome. With the sensitivity of digital PCR allowing us to see these mutations, this may eventually shape personalized treatment and medical care.
Q: As the RainDrop system has gone out to customers, what is something that you’ve learned or that has surprised you about how the technology is being used?
A: We’re seeing a large interest in applying dPCR in the food and agricultural sciences. We fully expected that dPCR would be applied in that field, but I was surprised by how great the interest is. The potential applications of this technology are staggering.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that your colleagues don’t know.
A: I really enjoy scuba diving! Back in college I actually used to go ice diving.
The RainDrop Digital PCR System is for Research Use Only; not for use in diagnostic procedures.