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Sweden's Symcel Rolls out CalScreener System for Multiplex, Calorimetric Cell-Based Assays

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Symcel this week introduced a new platform called calScreener that can provide real-time cellular bioenergetic measurements of 32 samples at a time.

Magnus Jansson, CSO at the Stockholm -based company, told BioArray News that Symcel will initially be targeting pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and academic customers in Europe, its home market, ahead of a planned US launch next year.

Jansson said that calScreener requires a CE mark to show it conforms to EU safety regulations, and will need to gain compliance with the safety standards of Underwriters Laboratories, an international nonprofit certification organization, before Symcel can sell the test to American customers.

"Europe is our home market and we are pretty confident with the regulations, so it is best to start here," Jansson said. "We are trying to promote the system through different sales activities, and have started with direct sales to companies, targeting specific biotech [and] pharmaceutical companies, as well as academia," he said.

Jansson said that Symcel has already installed the system in three pharmaceutical or academic laboratories, and that a paper co-authored with collaborators at the University of Basel in Switzerland is pending publication. He did not name the other two first adopters

Symcel's calScreener platform is based on the principles of calorimetry, which relies on heat to measure metabolic and physical changes. Samples are deposited into 32 individual sealed cups positioned within its calPlate consumable. Each calPlate actually contains 48 wells, but 16 of those wells are used as quality control references, Jansson said. The plate is then placed in a thermostatic chamber set at a target temperature. A heat-flux detecting sensor, called the thermopile, registers energy released within the cups, and generates signals that are proportional to the heat flow.

These signals are subsequently analyzed using Symcel's calView software, which allows the user to assign real-time data for each test well, and to view the progress of all the test graphs simultaneously or view individual test graphs close up.

Since the system measures the total energy released, the company claims on its website that it registers a "true phenotype effect" and a "more accurate indication of pharmacodynamics," regardless of the involved pathways or mechanisms, because the measurement is label free and therefore non-invasive and non-destructive.

"The main value is that you have continuous measurement of activity in the cell culture when you treat it with different substances or antibodies or agents," said Jansson. "You can see the kinetics, you can distinguish between different cellular events," he said. "Most assays are endpoint assays or intermittent assays where you measure a particular interval, while we can measure from a couple hours to over a month."

Symcel has been developing calScreener since its inception 10 years ago, when it was founded by Dan Hallen and Ingemar Wadsö, two researchers with backgrounds in calorimetry. The privately-held company is now positioning the system – which has an initial price of $300,000 – for use in a number of applications including drug development, protein production, toxicology, and basic research.

"Firstly, we are aiming at the pharmaceutical industry, — the technology was intended for drug screening, to try and have better predictability compared to other assay types — but we are also looking into broadening our scope into different markets," said Jansson. He cited agricultural research and environmental monitoring as two other areas where the calScreener could be of interest.

"It's a very versatile technology and you can use it in many different scenarios," he said.

Another aspect of the calScreener platform is that it accepts multiple sample inputs. "We are able to measure bacteria, yeast, fungi, mammalian cells, tissues, three-dimensional models; pretty much anything that puts out energy, we can measure," said Jansson. That includes adhesive cells, such as those harvested from muscle, fat, and kidneys, as well as ovaries, liver, and organs of interest.

While Symcel's current generation of calPlates support multiplexing of up to 32 samples, Jansson said that the company is interesting in increasing this capability, though he declined to provide a date for when a higher-throughput system might become available.

"The 96-well format is well established" in research, Jansson noted. "The next iteration we will aim for is for 96 samples," he said. "It's certainly on the drawing board."

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