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Cellomics New Live-Cell High-Throughput Imager Module Enables Firm to Keep Up with the Joneses


Fisher Biosciences unit Cellomics this week announced the release of a live-cell module and accompanying software that can enable researchers to perform live-cell kinetic assays on its high-content screening platform, the ArrayScan VTI.

The add-on also enables Cellomics to compete with vendors such as GE Healthcare, Molecular Devices, and BD Biosciences, all of which already offer a higher-throughput system for live-cell kinetic screens.

Cellomics was actually one of the first high-content imaging vendors to offer a platform for live-cell kinetic analyses with its KineticScan reader. This instrument, however, "was really designed to be a research instrument," Judy Masucci, Cellomics' director of marketing, told CBA News this week.

Cellomics' other platform, the ArrayScan VTI, is the company's higher throughput workhorse machine, and has been marketed primarily to pharmaceutical and academic drug discovery operations for higher throughput high-content screens — but until now only on fixed cells.

Meanwhile, competing high-content imaging vendors Molecular Devices, GE Healthcare, and BD Biosciences all have higher-throughput instruments with kinetic live-cell capabilities — the ImageXpress 5000A, IN Cell Analyzer 3000, and newly-launched Pathway 855, respectively.

"The feedback we got from our customers is that they didn't want to have to choose between an ArrayScan and a KineticScan."

Each of those competing platforms uses different imaging methods and comes in at different price points, but all feature environmental control for live-cell assays.

Masucci said that Cellomics had been receiving feedback mostly from existing ArrayScan customers to modify the platform to enable similar capabilities.

"The KineticScan was designed only for live-cell assays," Masucci said. "You can do fixed-cell assays in there, but it's not fast like the ArrayScan. The feedback we got from our customers is that they didn't want to have to choose between an ArrayScan and a KineticScan."

Masucci said Cellomics had a lot of customers who either owned or wanted an ArrayScan, but also wanted a live-cell imager. "They either needed the optical sectioning capability, or they needed the speed and ability to do robotic handling," she said.

With the new product release, Cellomics now feels that it can offer instruments that will be more attractive to increasingly separated markets.

"For people who just want to do live-cell imaging in a research mode and aren't looking for screening modes, then the KineticScan meets their needs," Masucci said. "If they're looking for a screening mode, and they want optical sectioning, fast imaging, and live-cell biology, then they really need the ArrayScan VTI with a live-cell module."

The live-cell module features an incubation chamber that maintains a controlled environment for cells. The chamber has configurable temperature and carbon dioxide controls, as well as controlled humidity levels. Masucci said that beta tests and in-house experiments have shown that cells can be imaged repeatedly for up to 72 hours, "as if they were in an incubator."

The biggest demand for live-cell capabilities came from customers who were using particular dyes that were not amenable to fixation. Those customers often ran live-cell assays on the ArrayScan despite a lack of environmental control, so they were essentially "end-point assays using live cells," Masucci said.

Other types of assays that will benefit from the live-cell module are protein translocation assays, where researchers want to watch labeled molecules moving from one part of the cell to another in real time; and cell-motility assays, which are especially important in immunological studies.

Cellomics also had to upgrade the existing ArrayScan software to enable the kinetic live-cell assays. According to a statement from the company, the "VTI Live software works with the full suite of Cellomics BioApplications and HCi Informatics software products, can track cell identity over time, and can calculate motility and kinetic measurements on any cell or well feature."

Masucci said that the software also features several upgrades in addition to the live-cell analysis modules that might make it attractive to customers using the ArrayScan for only fixed-cell assays.

"The software includes some upgrades that customers have been asking for," she said. "Even though they might not have a live-cell chamber, they could still use the kinetic software for other types of calculations — for instance, to do kinetic assays in fixed endpoint mode. Not all aspects of the kinetic software will be useful to them if they don't have the live-cell chamber, but there are certainly additional features that will be useful for all of our users."

Other new software features include the ability to open images from any source and manage them using Cellomics' informatics software; the ability to implement data reduction as needed; the ability to create kinetic movies; and the ability to re-scan kinetic data and keep original time points "so that even your 'virtual' experiments are conducted as if they were done in real time," Masucci said.

Currently the software is only available in conjunction with the live-cell module,Masuccim said, but Cellomics plans to release the software as an upgrade to existing users later in the year.

The live-cell module can be sold separately and retrofitted to existing ArrayScan VTI readers, or sold together with a new ArrayScan VTI. Users that are uninterested in the live-cell option can still buy a standard ArrayScan VTI, Masucci said. It is unclear how much the live-cell module will cost.

Cellomics has had several beta-testers, which the company could not reveal due to confidentiality agreements. The product will be officially available for shipment to all interested parties at the end of this month, Masucci said. Cellomics declined to discuss specific pricing information, but Masucci said that the live-cell module costs about 15 percent of the price of a "bare-bones" ArrayScan VTI.

— Ben Butkus ([email protected])

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