Looking to attract pharmaceutical companies and large biotechs, Molecular Cytomics, a Boston, Mass.-based company that sells tools for cell microarrays, has developed a 96-well-plate format that it claims will enable users to study cells in real time at higher throughput.
MCy last year launched its Optical LiveCell Array, a tool for high-content cell screening that is sold in a glass slide format similar to a traditional microarray. According to Sarah Haigh, a senior scientist at the company, MCy was encouraged to develop a 96-well plate product by its pharmaceutical and biotech customers, which include Amgen, Wyeth, and BD Biosciences.
The firm is now seeking beta sites to test the 96-well prototype before proceeding with a full commercial launch.
"We have had a lot of feedback from the pharma world and they are saying that they want to do higher-throughput, so they want to work on more compounds than just one that you could put on a slide," Haigh told BioArray News this week. "Although you can image thousands of cells on a slide, it's the actual experiments where they are seeking higher throughput; they want to do multiple compounds or toxins, for example."
"I do believe that this is a field that will grow,” Haigh said. “The cell is a very dynamic environment and once you get information from your DNA array and your protein array, from your cell array you can get different kinds of information in real time," she said.
As MCy moves ahead with its 96-well plan the company is facing slim competition. A relatively recent phenomenon, cell arrays have so far existed mainly in the domain of academia, where they are made in house, and Haigh said that she is not aware of any direct competitors.
"At present I believe that we are the only company that has commercialized a cell array," she said.
Christopher Love, a research fellow at the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research who is familiar with the cell-array arena, told BioArray News this week that he is "not aware of another company that is currently producing arrays for individual cells other than [Molecular] Cytomics." However, he said there have been "several demonstrations in the academic community of isolating cells in individual containers using various substrates.”
Love added that better integration into existing workflows, like the 96-well format, could bolster the market for cell-array technology. "There may be a market for such devices in drug discovery and biosensors, but the integration of the devices into standard processes is required," he said. "My personal opinion is that these types of assays will be best suited in the near term for looking at heterogeneous populations of cells or variation in populations at the level of individual cells."
Haigh said that the launch of the high-throughput format would not interfere with sales of the company's existing Optical LiveCell Array Kits, which are distributed worldwide by Nalge Nunc, a subsidiary of Thermo Fisher Scientific.
She said that the plates should "conform to the standards of a 96-well plate and will be compatible with any machine, whether it be a high-content analysis machine or robotic arms that move the plates."
The company's LiveCell Array slides are made of glass, which Haigh said enhances the optical quality of the array. She declined to further describe the 96-well prototype, but said that the plates would help expand the firm's clientele outside of academia.
“The cell is a very dynamic environment and once you get phenomenal information from your DNA array and your protein array, from your cell array you can get different kinds of information in real-time.”
"It really depends on what your experiment is, but the way I see it today is that the slide will be more beneficial for the academic laboratory where there is less of an inclination towards high-throughput screens or high-throughput science," she said. "The 96-well plate would be better for pharma or large biotech where they have a very strong influence towards having these high-throughput technologies."
In terms of applications, Haigh said that because MCy is strictly a hardware supplier, its tools could serve researchers with a variety of focuses. In seeking beta testers, Haigh also said that the firm has several kinds of users in mind, particularly those that are working with mast cells, which are best known for their role in allergy.
"This is a great technique for mast cells because these cells are very sensitive,” she said.
“If you are shaking a flask with these cells they are going to artificially activate,” Haigh explained. “Whereas, using our slide or 96-well plate, it's very gentle. You load the cells, and then you can manipulate them in a very gentle manner," she added.
Haigh said another focus area could be blood cells. "If you want to have a look at genetic changes over time, it's important to see each individual cells over multiple time points," she said. "If you don't prevent the cells from moving around somehow, like we do by corralling the cells in little wells, then it’s impossible to measure the same cell over time, especially if you are adding toxins or drugs."
MCy currently has no plans to deliver content to its customers, according to Haigh. "We provide the hardware and they load the cells," she said. "This is a live cell technique and it is up the end users to have healthy, living cells to put into the array when they are ready."