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DigiLab Moves Into Live and Stem-Cell Research Market with Launch of CellJet Arrayer


By Justin Petrone

Nearly four years after it acquired Harvard Bioscience's Genomic Solutions business, DigiLab is looking to parlay those microarray assets into the market for live cell arrays, and the stem cell-research market in particular.

Steve Blose, vice president of sales and marketing for the Holliston, Mass.-based firm, told BioArray News this week that the company is targeting cell researchers with its new CellJet cell array printer.

"Live cell arrays are going to take off and we are going into the stem cell-research market as well," Blose said.

He said the advantage of the firm's technology is its ability to print cells without disrupting or destroying them in the process.

"The cells are kept alive as we print them down in various patterns or we layer them and interdigitate them with biomatrices or hydrogels," said Blose.

He said that the printer is being used in regenerative medicine research to "construct microorgans and tissues or to put two different stem cell types near each other to see how they differentiate."

DigiLab introduced the CellJet Live Cell Printer last year. The system relies on the firm's internally developed SynQuad non-contact dispensing technology and supports the printing of both viscous solutions and fragile cells.

Blose noted that cells are dispensed through a valve-free fluid path, which the firm claims can reduce cell damage. Cells are then aspirated from their source through ceramic tips into coiled tubing and dispensed into microtiter plates or slides.

According to Blose, existing systems on the market "rely on drawing the cells up through a valve and then dispensing them," which he said kills the cells. For others, the resident time in the system is too long.

"Half the battle is keeping the cells alive, and the other half is printing them carefully in viscous solution, which is something we can do," he said.

DigiLab's instrument is available in single-channel configuration for printing a single type of cell or reagent at one time, or two or four channels for dispensing multiple cell types and reagents simultaneously, according to the firm.

While the printer is relatively new, it has already been optimized for several applications. Customers in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, have used the printer to create cell migration assays. Cells are printed in the periphery of a well in a microtiter plate and researchers add "different drugs to enhance or slow the cell migration to the middle as a proxy for either wound healing or in some cases metastasis," said Blose.

"With the CellJet, we can print the cells around the periphery of the well in a pattern, and then they take that dish and add various agents," he noted.

According to Blose, the printer can also be used to construct tissue and micro-organs by interdigitating specific cells between layers of intercellular matrices. He declined to elaborate, but said that publications discussing this application have been submitted for review.

Blose did mention that the firm has placed the CellJet with researchers at Worcester Polytechnical Institute in Massachusetts and the University of Athens in Greece, adding that the company is waiting for initial feedback before embarking on any upgrades to the system.

"We are not going to make a major technology change to it for another six months," Blose said. "We want to see what the market wants: Do we want to put in more heads to increase the different types of cells we can array? Do we want to increase the dispensing volumes? These are things that we are going to play back from the market."

Cell research is a relatively new market for DigiLab's Genomic Solutions business. In addition to the CellJet, the firm offers its Hyb microarray hybridization systems, its MicroGrid and OmniGrid microarrayers, and its MIAS high-throughput microscopy reader.

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According to Blose, the firm's arrayers have recently experienced a "renaissance" in the protein- and glycan-array markets, while nucleic acid-array customers have largely turned to printed arrays sold by the likes of Affymetrix, Agilent Technologies, Illumina, and Roche NimbleGen.

"Because our arrayers were built to be protein-friendly by keeping the arrays cold and humidified, we could spin on a dime to exploit the protein array market," said Blose.

He added that "people are now moving into printing complex sugars" for a variety of reasons, but the arrays are primarily being relied upon to sort cells.

"In some cases, they are using these arrays as a method to clone cells to specific receptors that are on the array, wash the array off, and then recover the cells," said Blose. "It is sort of analogous to sequence capture arrays. They are using arrays as a method of capture or purification."

Whatever Happened to Genomic Solutions?

Digilab became a player in the array market when it acquired Genomic Solutions from Harvard Bioscience in November 2007. Founded in 1994, Genomic Solutions went on to add microarraying instruments with its 2001 Cartesian Technologies buy, and broadened its array portfolio by acquiring GeneMachines and BioRobotics in 2003, the same year it became a subsidiary of Harvard Bioscience.

Originally a division of Bio-Rad, Digilab initially sold electronic measurement equipment to the FTIR market.

"Over time, it divested itself of that business and then acquired from Harvard Bioscience the various brands including Genomic Solutions," he said. "The core of the array offering came through the Genomic Solutions umbrella," he said.

These products were put back into the market by Digilab after the 2007 acquisition and the restructuring, but the familiar Genomic Solutions brand got lost in the shift. That is something that Blose is looking to reverse.

"My hunch is that the branding of the product became less apparent as it went under this DigiLab umbrella," said Blose. "Part of what I have been doing since I got here is working to reestablish the brand lineage. We are in the process of reconnecting this market awareness for people."

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com