Swedish biotechnology company Cellectricon is working on a high-throughput instrument to transfect cells via electroporation, as well as to assay them, Inside Bioassays has learned.
The instrument, called Cellaxess, is scheduled to be launched in the first half of 2005, according to Owe Orwar, Cellectricon’s CSO and a company co-founder. Orwar also said that Cellectricon is about to begin beta-testing the instrument at two large, undisclosed pharmaceutical companies in Europe.
This would be the second product for the Gothenburg, Sweden-based company after Dynaflow, its microfluidic chip for patch clamp analysis, launched last August. Last month, the company raised SEK 53 million (approximately $7 million) in a Series B financing round (see Inside Bioassays 6/1/2004).
Orwar, who is also a professor in the department of physical chemistry at Chalmers University of Technology, said he invented the underlying electroporation method, which Cellectricon calls ElectroFlow, in 1997. In the US, the technique is protected by US patent No. 6,521,430, “Method for electro-permeabilization of individual cellular and organellar structures and use thereof.”
The method uses a capillary connected to an electrode that can be moved close to, but not in direct contact with, a cell. When voltage is applied across the capillary, pores in the cell membrane open and the liquid inside the column starts moving, allowing molecules like drugs or DNA to enter the cell.
Unlike in conventional electroporation, where a voltage is applied across two electrodes in a cell suspension, no electrochemical reactions occur because the electrode is not in direct contact with the solution surrounding the cell, Orwar said. This minimizes the trauma to the cells and increases their survival rate.
“The success rate is basically 100 percent, or very close to it,” for small molecules, he said, and about 80 percent for DNA. By comparison, traditional transfection methods — including bulk electroporation and lipid-mediated transfection — are “much less” successful, he said.
The new instrument will combine high-throughput electroporation with either a traditional plate reader or a scanning microscopy device. It will have 8, 16, or 96 capillaries that can operate in parallel for transfecting up to 96 cell populations at a time with DNA, RNA, or small molecules.
The system is designed as a screening tool for intracellular targets, similar to the way Molecular Devices’ FLIPR system is designed for screening surface receptors, Orwar said. “It’s not addressing GPCRs on the surface — it’s addressing genes and proteins inside the cell,” he said. “It’s completely developed for discovering new targets.”
The Electroflow technology is already being used in a single-cell electroporation instrument launched two weeks ago by Axon Instruments. Axon obtained an exclusive license to the electroporation patent for single-cell applications last fall.
The Axoporator 800A, which uses a single capillary, is designed for basic research applications that require targeting individual cells, according to Al Walter, director of technical support at Axon. These could be cells in culture, in a tissue, or even in a live animal, such as a tadpole.
For example, researchers can target specific cell types in a tissue or an animal, he said. In another application, scientists can electroporate an individual cell multiple times, introducing, for example, first a gene and later another molecule such as calcium to assay a single cell. For studying embryos, researchers can use the instrument as an alternative to microinjection, he said.
On average, about 80 percent of cells are successfully transfected by the Axoporator, according to the company.
The first Axoporator instruments, which cost $5,800 each, will be shipped this week to academic research institutes including the US, Germany, Japan, and Hungary, according to Walter. He said the core support group for the instrument would remain intact after Molecular Devices finalizes its acquisition of Axon this week.
Cellectricon is not alone in working on a high-throughput transfection and assay platform. Possible competitors, according to Orwar, include an unidentified company that licensed technology developed at the University of Alabama, and others. “But I think ours will be the first that goes to the market, I’m sure about it” Orwar said.