During the last decade, the advent of high-throughput techniques such as DNA microarrays, has allowed investigators to interrogate the expression level of thousands of genes concurrently. Due to the heterogeneous nature of many cancers in terms of both their genetic and molecular origins and their response to treatment, individualizing patient treatment based on the expression levels of signature genes may impact favorably on patient management [1, 2]. In ovarian cancer, discrete gene signatures have been determined from microarray analysis of ovarian cancer versus normal ovarian tissue [3–6], correlating gene expression profiles to survival or prognosis [7, 8], studies of chemotherapy resistance [9, 10], and functional studies such as chromosome transfer experiments [11, 12]. Recent studies have focused on a biomarker approach , with specific prognostic markers being discovered by relating gene expression profiles to clinical variables [14–16]. In addition, there is a trend towards offering patient-tailored therapy, where expression profiles are related to key clinical features such as TP53 or HER2 status, surgical outcome and chemotherapy resistance [1, 17].
A major challenge in translating promising mRNA-based expression biomarkers has been the reproducibility of results when adapting gene expression assays to alternative platforms that are specifically developed for clinical laboratories. Xceed Molecular has recently developed a multiplex gene expression assay technology termed the Ziplex® Automated Workstation, designed to facilitate the expression analysis of a discrete number of genes (up to 120) specifically intended for clinical translational laboratories. The Ziplex array is essentially a three-dimensional array comprised of a microporous silicon matrix containing oligonucleotides probes mounted on a plastic tube. The probes are designed to overlap the target sequences of the probes used in large-scale gene expression array platforms from which the expression signature of interest was initially detected, such as the 3' UTR target sequences of the Affymetrix GeneChip®. However unlike most large-scale expression platforms, gene expression detection is by chemiluminescence. Recently, the Ziplex technology was compared to five other commercially available and well established gene expression profiling systems following the methods introduced by the MicroArray Quality Control (MAQC) consortium [18–20] and reported in a white paper by Xceed Molecular . The original MAQC study (MAQC Consortium, 2006) was undertaken because of concerns about the reproducibility and cross-platform concordance between gene expression profiling platforms, such as microarrays and alternative quantitative platforms. By assessing the expression levels of the MAQC panel of 53 genes on universal RNA samples, it was determined that the reproducibility, repeatability and sensitivity of the Ziplex system were at least equivalent to that of other MAQC platforms .
There is a need to implement reliable gene expression technologies that are readily adaptable to clinical laboratories in order to screen individual or multiple gene expression profiles ("signature") identified by large-scale gene expression assays of cancer samples. Our ovarian cancer research group (as well as other independent groups) has identified specific gene expression profiles from mining Affymetrix GeneChip expression data illustrating the utility of this approach at identifying gene signature patterns associated with specific parameters of the disease [14, 22]. Ovarian cancer specimens are typically large and exhibit less tumor heterogeneity and thus may be amenable to gene expression profiling in a reproducible way. However, until recently the gene expression technologies available that could easily be adapted to a clinical setting have been limited primarily by the expertise required to operate them. The recently developed Ziplex Automated Workstation offers a opportunity to develop RNA expression-based biomarkers that could readily be adapted to clinical settings as the 'all-in-one' technology appears to be relatively easy to use. However, this system has not been applied to ovarian cancer disease nor has its use been reported in human systems. In the present study we have evaluated the reproducibility of the Ziplex system using 93 genes, selected based on their expression profile as initially assessed by Affymetrix GeneChip microarray analyses from a number of ovarian cancer research studies from our group [6, 14, 22–26]. These include genes which are highly differentially expressed between ovarian tumor samples and normal ovary samples that were identified using both newer and older generation GeneChips [6, 22, 25, 26]. In addition, to address the question of sensitivity, genes known to have a wide range of expression values were tested some of which show comparable values of expression between representative normal and ovarian tumor tissue samples but represent a broad range of expression values [25, 26]. Other genes known to be relevant to ovarian cancer including tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes were included in the analysis. Selected highly differentially expressed genes from an independent microarray analysis of ovarian tumors compared to short term cultures of normal epithelial cells was also included . In many cases, the level of gene expression identified by Affymetrix GeneChip analysis was independently validated by semi-quantitative RT-PCR, real-time RT-PCR, or Northern Blot analysis [6, 14, 22, 24–26]. Expression assays were performed using RNA from serous ovarian tumors, short term cultures of normal ovarian surface epithelial cells, and four well characterized ovarian cancer cell lines which were selected based on their known expression profiles using Affymetrix microarray analyses. Comparisons were made between the Ziplex system and expression profiles generated using the U133A Affymetrix GeneChip platform. An important aspect of this study was that gene expression profiling of Ziplex system was performed in a blinded fashion where the sample content was not known to the immediate users. It is envisaged that both the nature of the candidates chosen and their range of gene expression will permit for a direct comment on the sensitivity, reproducibility and overall utility of the Ziplex array as a platform for gene expression array analysis for translational research.