GE Healthcare and the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair plan to co-develop new image analysis software for GE's IN Cell 1000 cellular analysis platform, CBA News has learned.
The move could eventually bolster the IN Cell's image-analysis capabilities, an area that some industry insiders believe is an Achilles' heel for the product line (see CBA News, 6/27/2005).
GE plans to officially announce the collaboration at IBC's Drug Discovery Technology and Development conference being held this week in Boston, a GE Healthcare spokesperson told CBA News last week.
Along with an IN Cell instrument, GE has provided HCNR with pre-packaged image analysis routines, as well as the IN Cell Developer Toolbox, a more flexible software package that enables researchers to develop "new cellular assay from a menu of pre-programmed sub-routines," according to the company.
According to Stephen Wong (see 'Phenotype', this issue), director of the center for bioinformatics at HCNR, he and his colleagues have also been developing an image analysis software platform of their own called the Cellular Imaging Quantitator (CellIQ) that borrows concepts from the medical imaging field and puts them to use for analyzing images from automated microscopy platforms.
"One of GE Healthcare's motivations in giving us the IN Cell instrument is to try and co-develop software, to beef up their IN Cell Analyzer," Wong said.
"One of GE Healthcare's motivations in giving us the IN Cell instrument is to try and co-develop software, to beef up their IN Cell Analyzer."
It is unclear whether features of the CellIQ platform will eventually be incorporated into GE's existing software. Wong did, however, tell CBA News that HCNR plans to make the CellIQ software applicable to a wide variety of instrumentation platforms, and that it will remain an open-source package.
The IN Cell instrument will be made available to HCNR researchers, as well as researchers across various life science-related departments at Harvard, many of whom are already working with Wong's group on microscopy and image-analysis projects.
Wong added that GE Healthcare and HCNR will be hosting a joint invitation-only workshop at the end of this month on imaging in biological systems. According to Wong, the workshop will feature presentations by himself, GE Healthcare representatives, and NIH scientists, among others.
The HCNR is not the only academic group in the US — or even in Boston — that is developing image-analysis software to complement or perhaps eventually replace the image-analysis software that is packaged with many commercial HCS platforms. Anne Carpenter, a postdoc in the Sabatini lab at the Whitehead Institute, has also been developing an open-source image-analysis package called CellProfiler over the past year or so, and is eyeing a late-fall release for the software (see CBA News, 7/4/2005).
According to Carpenter, several commercial HCS vendors have approached her regarding the possible integration of CellProfiler with their existing image-analysis packages, but the Whitehead lab hasn't forged any official collaborations.
With the HCNR partnership, GE has seemingly jumped the gun on its competitors to latch onto an academic team working in the HCS image-analysis space. Many industry insiders have agreed that image analysis is a huge bottleneck for HCS, and that commercial software packages are merely adequate for many assay applications, and not useful for many others.
It remains to be seen whether GE will use the HCNR partnership to develop an updated commercial software package for the IN Cell, or use it as a launching pad to begin allowing IN Cell users to choose an external software package of their choice to cull through images produced by the instrument. Either way, the move addresses a perceived lack of flexibility associated with the IN Cell.
GE declined to comment about the collaboration or its plans to integrate the HCNR software into the IN Cell platform.
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])