Expert Insights: HiMedia Labs on Advancing Nucleic Acid Extraction Across Industries

Insights from IndustryDr. Rajas V. WarkeDirector of Molecular Biology & Virology HiMedia Labs

Join us for an interview with Dr. Rajas Warke, HiMedia Labs’ Director of Molecular Biology and Virology. Dr. Warke is critical to the success of HiMedia Labs, with an emphasis on innovative molecular biology solutions and automation.

This interview looks into the challenges of nucleic-acid extraction, the effectiveness of HiMedia's automated systems, such as the Insta NX® Mag24, and their impact on a variety of industries. This conversation provides valuable insights into the ever-changing area of molecular diagnostics from a visionary in the field.

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your career to date?

I am Dr. Rajas Warke, currently leading the Molecular Biology & Virology Division (HiGenoMB) at HiMedia Labs. Pvt. Ltd., with my co-director and elder sister, Dr. Kavita Khadke. My academic journey began with a Bachelor's degree in pharmacy. Nonetheless, my keen interest in Biotechnology led me to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the USA, where I earned a Master's degree in the field.

My research interest drove me to pursue a Doctorate at UMass Med in collaboration with MIT, focusing particularly on Clinical Immunology and Virology. After finishing my study abroad, I returned to help my family's business, HiMedia Labs, as a second-generation leader.

In my role, I am in charge of developing molecular biology solutions and automated platforms. I also oversee the marketing, sales, and operations of our broad product line, which includes over 2,000 SKUs. To improve my business decision-making skills, I earned an MBA in Family Business Management from the S. P. Jain School of Management, Mumbai. I am constantly looking for ways to improve our company's systems and keep up with the latest global technology trends.

Could you start by explaining the main bottlenecks in nucleic acid extraction that industries face today?

In many industries, there is a notable trend toward using Nucleic Acid Sequence-Based Amplification (NASBA) in laboratory workflows. The initial step in any biotechnology-based lab analysis is DNA or RNA extraction. The type of specimen and intended downstream applications have a significant influence on the method selected to achieve the desired result.

To put it simply, the molecular biology workflow is analogous to a computer system's input/output process, in which the input command influences the quality of the analyzed data. Similarly, the quality and concentration of extracted DNA or RNA are critical factors in any genetic analysis, regardless of the industry.

There are two basic ways for extracting DNA/RNA: silica-based columns and magnetic bead-based kits. Currently, the field of automation in nucleic acid extraction is becoming crowded with many instrumentation choices. However, there is a distinct lack of high-quality kits designed for specific sample types. These can include clinical samples, biopharma liquids, food matrices, cosmetics, and forensic samples, among other substances. Addressing this gap requires the development of kits that are specially tailored for these diverse sample types.

Could you explain how HiMedia's automated DNA/RNA extraction systems, such as the Insta NX® Mag24, address these limitations and revolutionize nucleic acid extraction in various industries?

HiGenoMB-HiMedia has always specialized in the field of laboratory solutions, responding to the different needs of several industries. Our product range includes devices and kits designed for different sample processing capacities. The Insta NX Series of Magnetic Automated Extraction includes the Mag16, Mag32, and Mag96 models, with the number denoting the maximum number of samples that each can handle.

The Mag24 model is designed specifically to handle higher sample volumes, up to 5 ml per sample. This capacity is especially useful for oncology testing, which frequently demands processing larger initial sample volumes, necessitating a specialized instrument design. The Mag24 is well-suited for such applications.

However, the Mag24’s applicability extends beyond oncology. It is also used in a variety of other applications, including automated midiprep plasmid DNA extractions for the research and vaccine industries, agriculture for screening multiple samples at once for infections, and even food diagnostics. The unique kits we design allow us to handle bulk samples effectively, making our instrument adaptable across various industries.

Can you please describe the specific features of your automated systems that ensure high-quality, efficient, and reliable DNA/RNA extraction? What are the distinct advantages of using magnetic bead-based systems in nucleic acid extraction, and how do they compare to conventional methods?

Conventional DNA extraction methods used a precipitation technique using Phenol and Isopropanol. This method was not only time-consuming, but it also required the use of hazardous chemicals. This approach was gradually overtaken by the spin column-based method. The spin-column procedure can be likened to employing a fishing net, in which nucleic acids are trapped in a membrane and then separately eluted out.

In comparison, the magnetic bead-based method is similar to using a fishing hook. This method involves binding DNA molecules to magnetic particles and then eluting them.

Our extensive research and comparative investigations have shown that the magnetic bead-based method is more specific and sensitive for DNA extraction across a variety of sample types. When combined with automation, this approach significantly reduces manual errors and saves time over other methods.

HiGenoMB-HiMedia has created user-friendly, pre-filled cartridges that further reduce human intervention. These cartridges allow for the simultaneous processing of several samples, which streamlines the workflow and increases laboratory efficiency.

Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.comImage Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com

How does HiMedia Labs ensure that its Automated DNA/RNA Extraction systems stay ahead of the evolving needs of multi-industrial users?

We at HiGenoMB-HiMedia are firm believers that the true potential of automation systems in nucleic acid extraction can only be realized when they are combined with the appropriate kits. These kits are critical for achieving the scientific precision and efficiency required in the extraction process.

Our dedicated team, which includes both engineers and extraction experts, works tirelessly to create automated solutions that are not only sensitive and user-friendly but also specifically tailored to meet the unique requirements of each sample type and the specific needs of our customers' applications.

HiGenoMB-HiMedia distinguishes itself with its unique buffer formulation and rigorous instrument protocol design. This attention to detail in both hardware and reagent design is what makes our automated solutions stand out in the field of nucleic acid extraction.

With the growing demand for quick diagnostics, how do your systems support the urgency in pathogen detection and precision medicine?

HiGenoMB-HiMedia has reached a significant milestone by filing a patent for processing a maximum number of COVID samples in a notably short time — 96 samples in approximately 11 minutes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we played a critical role by contributing to at least 25% of the COVID testing in India, both in the public and private sectors. In addition, our products were in high demand internationally due to our innovative technique of employing pre-filled plates paired with the fastest protocol settings on our equipment, which proved extremely useful during the pandemic's peak.

Our systems and kits are tailored to the exact needs of our customers. This unique approach, together with our technical and operational skills, positions us particularly well in the Clinical Rapid Diagnostic industry. We pride ourselves on delivering efficient and customized solutions that effectively address the urgent demands of health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is your vision for the future of automated nucleic acid extraction technology in terms of improving the accuracy and efficiency of diagnostic processes?

Common problems in nucleic acid extraction include a scarcity of technical personnel, high staff turnover, and the usage of various processing protocols across different commercial kits. These factors often cause variability in the purity and yield of extraction results, even for the same sample.

In addition, achieving repeatability and reproducibility of results across qualified technical staff and between different laboratories is a major challenge. Each laboratory aims to reduce the variance caused by human factors.

Results can be more accurate and efficient if human intervention is reduced or minimized. Automated extraction platforms are critical in this regard, as they enhance the precision and effectiveness of diagnostic processes. Implementing automated nucleic acid extraction technology is crucial for improving the reliability and consistency of diagnostics.

What are the most exciting developments in molecular diagnostics, and how is HiMedia positioned to contribute to these advancements?

One of the most significant advancements in molecular diagnostics is the development of POCT (Point-of-Care Testing) technology, which automates the entire process from sample insertion to results retrieval. This technology has enormous potential for making advanced diagnostic tests widely accessible, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries.

A key challenge with existing POCT technologies is their expensive cost per sample, which often restricts their usage to specific groups or requires funding from global healthcare projects. In contrast, developed countries benefit from efficient logistics networks, ensuring that samples from remote areas arrive at major diagnostic labs in good condition and within an acceptable timeframe.

In developing and underdeveloped countries, the situation is very different. Due to poor infrastructure, samples often get spoiled or face delays in reaching diagnostic facilities. In such cases, POCT platforms that require little or no technical skills can be revolutionary, allowing healthcare access to all regions of a country.

HiMedia saw this need and has been working on it for several years. We are nearing the end of the development process for an affordable POCT platform and diagnostic kit.

This automated, expertise-free solution, available at a reasonable cost, has the potential to empower clinicians and veterinarians significantly. They can concentrate on selecting the appropriate POCT RT-PCR assays without having to worry about the patient's ability to afford the diagnostic test.

How does HiMedia's nucleic acid extraction approach contribute to a better understanding and management of diseases in diverse fields like clinical diagnostics, environmental testing, and food safety?

HiMedia knows that, in the post-COVID-19 age, clinical molecular diagnostics have become an essential component of medium to large-scale laboratories globally. To fully capitalize on this broad adoption of fast and sensitive testing technologies, there is an increasing need to integrate more RT-PCR-based assays on these machines at reasonable costs.

HiMedia is developing QR code-based online reporting software. This breakthrough enables immediate monitoring of the first outbreak, including its location, the number of cases, and the direction of propagation. Such real-time data is critical for government agencies to implement infection-control procedures quickly.

Speed and simplicity are also essential for environmental monitoring and food safety testing, which often require minimal technical knowledge. Environmental samples are typically gathered far from established labs, and the food industry cannot afford long wait times before releasing batches of manufactured items. However, both sectors face competitive pressures and often struggle with rising quality control (QC) testing costs.

POCT platforms have the potential to transform the food safety industry. Government officials and diagnostic labs can use them directly in markets to ensure merchants comply with necessary product cleanliness standards.

At HiGenoMB HiMedia, we are committed to creating and implementing lab- and POCT-based molecular assays. These assays are inexpensive, simple to use, and maintain high levels of sensitivity and specificity, meeting the different needs of the environmental and food industries.

Where Can Readers Find More Information?

About Dr. Rajas V. Warke, Ph.D., M. B. A

Dr. Rajas Warke, HiMedia Laboratories' youngest director, currently leads one of the company’s most technologically advanced branches. Dr. Rajas leads the Molecular Biology Division, with Dr. Kavita Khadke serving as co-director.

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