Published the March 15, 2024

e-miRgency : the new spin-off from C2N's research work

Founded in January 2024 and housed at C2N, this start-up aims to exploit a patented technology based on microfluidics and electrochemistry to detect nucleic acids in short sequences quickly, sensitively and without error compared with RT-qPCR. This technology is the result of 8 years of academic research (ANR, labex Nanosaclay) and CNRS prematuration. Thanks to this technology, the e-miRgency start-up aims to revolutionise cancer diagnosis and monitoring by correlating the signature of panels of microRNAs from development through to mapping the evolution of the cancer in order to provide better monitoring.

Searching for and finding representative panels of microRNAs to predict and control the evolution of cancers

The ability to diagnose cancer even before the first symptoms appear and to establish the most appropriate treatment to cure it are the two main challenges of the next decade in terms of medical diagnosis. 1,2 Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a routine test used to diagnose cancer, providing 3D images of the organ in question1,2. However, MRI provides information about lesions that are already advanced and not visible on X-rays (ultrasound, CT scan, etc.). Imaging the molecular activity of an organ using a PET scan (or PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography) is the latest cutting-edge device in the search for early cancerous tumours, and is proving far more effective than MRI. However, a PET scan costs an average of €2.5 million, with an installation cost of around €800,000 and an annual operating budget of €2 million.

In France, 121 PET scans are currently available. 2 As a result, this test is mainly used at the end of cancer treatment to monitor the eradication of cancer cells rather than for early diagnosis. This is one of the reasons why blood analysis (a form of liquid biopsy) remains the most cost-effective method of establishing an early, rapid and less costly diagnosis.
Since their involvement in early-stage cancer pathologies was discovered some twenty years ago, intracellular microRNAs (miRNAs) have become highly promising biomarkers for medical diagnosis.3 MiRNAs, which consist of around twenty nucleotides, are heavily involved in post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms capable of inducing the silencing or activation of certain genes. The presence of these RNAs in body fluids (plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, saliva, etc.), known as "circulating RNAs", is a sign of major disruption or deregulation of their expression.

There is therefore a need, on the one hand, for a personalised assay to establish a profile of changes in circulating miRNA concentration before the cancer develops, and on the other hand, for personalised monitoring of these changes to adapt the treatment protocol. This strategy would represent an economic gain in terms of considerable healthcare costs during patient management, but above all, the information provided by these personalised assays would enable more effective use of innovative and very costly anti-cancer treatments.
We have developed a miRNA detection process based on the combination of magnetic hyperthermia (capture and release) and electrochemical detection (capture and detection) of the hybridisation of nucleic acid sequences, without using the well-known technique known to the general public by its acronym RT-PCR (reverse transcription - polymerase chain reaction). This major advance makes it possible to resolve two complex steps in RT-PCR: (i) the reverse transcription (RT) step to convert RNA into DNA (PCR cannot process RNA as such), (ii) the chemical amplification of the copy number step (the target sought cannot be detected at its initial concentration). Our technology, developed at C2N, therefore makes it possible to use a clever method to directly capture (without transcribing or amplifying) the targets we are looking for in a complex biological sample and to release them in a localised manner into a fluidic microchannel containing electrochemical sensors. Over the past 8 years, this work has been the subject of two CNRS pre-maturation programmes, two projects co-funded by Labex Nanosaclay and the ANR, and has led to the recent publication of patents and know-how by the CNRS and Université Paris-saclay.4

C2N contact : Jean Gamby

(1) e-cancer national cancer information website.
(2) Cour des Comptes report, Communication to the Senate Social Affairs Committee, Report on medical imaging in France, page 5-163, May 2016.
(3) Swarup V, Rajeswari MR. Circulating (cell-free) nucleic acids. A promising, non-invasive tool for early detection of several human diseases. FEBS Lett. 2007, 581, 795-9.
(4) Patent 1: FR application 3072097 (2017-10-05) then EU PCT application, and USA application: Method for detecting nucleic acid molecules by magnetic hyperthermia and kit therefor, Protected in France and the USA (managed by CNRS Innovation), (ii) Patent 2: FR application 2112764 (2021-11-30) then EU PCT application: Binding of nucleic acids on platinum electrodes, PCT procedure in progress (since 2022-11-30) (managed by Université Paris-Saclay), and (iii) the production of laboratory prototypes giving rise to a declaration of know-how (DSF): filing DI. 10633-02 (2021-11-21) "Instrument and assembly for the multi-detection of circulating nucleic acids in 1, 2 and 8 microfluidic channels", CNRS Innovation procedure (France).