The National Institutes of Health has awarded University of Rochester spinout Simpore $185,000 to support the development of a cell culture microarray platform based on ultrathin nanoporous silicon membrane technology developed at the university.
The West Henrietta, NY-based firm received the grant on Sept. 1. The project is expected to conclude on May 31, 2012.
CEO Thomas Gaborski told BioArray News this week that the company's interest in cell culture arrays is an extension of its current life science offering — its CytoVu slides for membrane-supported live cell imaging.
Gaborski claimed that Simpore's ultrathin membranes "allow ideal cell co-cultures, bringing cell populations within 0.1 microns of one another with an optically transparent barrier." He said that the firm's membranes are "100 times thinner and significantly more permeable than conventional track-etched membranes," and therefore create "more physiologically relevant culture environments."
The firm is now hoping to channel those properties into success in the array market. Simpore was prompted to develop a cell culture microarray system by customer requests to use CytoVu for studying individual cells and embryoidal bodies, Gaborski said.
He claimed that existing microarray systems for cell culture surround cells by impermeable walls, "creating unfriendly culture conditions," and that Simpore's envisioned microarray will "support cells on its high permeable and optically transparent membrane technology."
Gaborski said that Simpore will use the new NIH funds to create arrays on its microporous and nanoporous membranes. "The formulation of the array walls will be explored in this grant proposal," he said, "and we will begin experimentation with patterned permeable hydrogels."
Should Simpore be successful in developing the platform, Gaborski speculated that the first generation of CytoVu microarrays will be available by the end of 2012.
He also said that the firm will seek additional funding to develop an automated analysis system using the microarray platform, but did not elaborate.
According to the grant abstract, the proposed platform will overcome the shortcomings of current technologies. "Existing low-well-count cell culture plates require greater volumes of precious drug formulations for permeability assays and more plates are required to complete a series of experiments," the company said in the abstract. "These same factors increase the cost of parallelized cellular experimentation in basic science such as screening stem cell culture differentiation conditions."
The firm said it believes that its nanoporous substrates could miniaturize cell culture screening for high-throughout drug permeability and co-culture studies. "We will enable single-cell screening to study phenotypic and behavioral variations in cell populations in response to stimuli, drug treatments or co-culture environments," Simpore said.
In the first part of the proposed project, Simpore will fabricate microarray-scale cell culture arrays using porous nanocrystalline silicon. "We will confirm [that] these devices and size format promote healthy growth of primary human umbilical vein endothelial cells by comparing cytotoxicity and growth curve measurements against larger conventional cell inserts," the company said.
If successful, the firm claims it will be the "first to offer a membrane-supported microarray that enables study variations in populations of cancer cells, stem cells, as well as primary cell response to drug treatment in a co-culture environment." The firm believes this phase of the project will lead to the creation of a live-imaging research tool for small-scale cell co-culture.
In the second phase of the proposed project, Simpore will focus on drug screening and stem cell differentiation with the goal of developing an automated cell dispensing and fluorescent image analysis system.
In both cases, the firm will also pursue enlarged microarrays with features greater than 100 microns and with degradable membrane supports that will permit the growth of "small islands of stratified tissue." Within six months of completing the second phase of the project, Simpore plans to introduce a 384-window microarray system with more than 105 wells.
Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com.