Hitachi has developed a 1mm² chip that can analyse and extract small amounts of mRNA, expressed from DNA with precision.

In general, a few hundred to thousands of cell analyses are required to characterise biological tissue. A demonstration showed that the genetic material of 2,000 cells could be simultaneously analysed using a prototype device on which these chips are arranged in parallel. The results indicated that the characteristics of entire tissue, such as cancer as well as of individual cells, could be understood at the same time. This result will contribute to accelerating elucidation of disease mechanisms as well as development of treatment methods.

Progress in medicine has shown that cells that compose biological tissue such as cancer, have individual and differing characteristics. As a result, it is considered necessary to measure the amount of mRNA in each cell to understand the mechanisms of disease. With conventional methods, measurement results are averaged for cells, preventing differences to be discriminated between individual cells within tissue. Single-cell analysis technology overcomes this by analysing individual cells but issues still exist, including precision, cost as well as large equipment and large amount of reagent required.

In early 2016, Hitachi developed a 1mm chip with 100 micro-reaction chambers that extract mRNA from individual cells. Delivering the reagent in one lot to chips arranged on an analytical device allowed mRNA to be automatically extracted from many cells as well as reduce the amount of reagent required to 1/20th of the original. This reduced cost of analysis, but issues on mRNA extraction remained. The size of the micro-reaction chamber made it difficult to pack the beads necessary to mRNA extraction.

To address the issues, Hitachi developed technology to pack more beads in the micro-reaction chamber and by increasing the surface area, it also improved the extraction. The experiments demonstrated high parallel processing capability as well as the ability to extract the mRNA existing in each cell. It has developed a prototype device that features simultaneous genetic analysis of 10,000 cells, allowing analysis of several thousand cells considered effective for accurate understanding of tissue and cell characteristics.

The technology is suitable for analysis of representative cells for diseases such as cells within cancer tissue or early stage cancer.