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Issue of HCS Standards Is Launching Pad for SBS, ISAC Alliance; Data and Image Analysis A Priority

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SEATTLE – The Society for Biomolecular Sciences and the International Society for Analytical Cytometry will co-chair a session on cell-based assays at SBS’ next annual meeting in April and plan to co-sponsor a separate workshop on data and image analysis in high-content screening, representatives from both organizations said this week.
 
The joint projects may also mark the beginning of a broader collaboration between the groups, which have complementary, and in some cases overlapping missions, and may provide the organizational structure needed to tackle the burgeoning issue of data and image analysis standards in HCS.
 
Representatives from SBS and ISAC made the comments at SBS’ Annual Meeting, held here this week. Although talks between the two groups had apparently started at ISAC’s biennial meeting in Quebec City earlier this year, the groups this week began to raise public awareness of the partnership, spurred by a lively special interest group meeting on data and image-analysis standards.
 
During the discussion portion of the special interest group, Paul Robinson, director of the Purdue University Cytometry Laboratories and current president of ISAC, said that there is a good chance that a workshop on data and image analysis for HCS “will occur within six or seven months, but we need to have SBS and ISAC involvement.”
 
Furthermore, the two organizations have already planned to co-chair a session on the broader topic of cell-based assays for drug discovery at the next SBS meeting, to be held April 2006 in Montreal. Next year is the first time SBS will hold its annual meeting in the spring as opposed to its traditional September meeting.
 
“At SBS 2007 in Montreal, ISAC is going to be co-chairing a session with SBS on cell-based assays, because ISAC has a tremendous depth of knowledge, but more from an academic viewpoint; while SBS has a tremendous depth of knowledge in cell-based assays and technologies from an industrial viewpoint,” SBS president Al Kolb told CBA News. “I think it would be good to have more of a mix of academia and industry in this area. We’ve been trying to do that, and this is a good way to do it.”
 
According to Kolb, he and SBS executive director Christine Giordano were invited to attend ISAC’s biennial meeting in May of this year, where they met with Robinson, ISAC president-elect Bob Murphy, and other organizational leaders to discuss the best areas in which to partner.
 
“That was the start of it – and they came to us the other day with the idea that there is a need for these standards in imaging,” Kolb said. “Many of the companies here make very high-end imaging equipment that drug-discovery people use extensively, as do many of the members of ISAC.”
 
While SBS’ main mission is to promote technologies for drug discovery, ISAC’s focus is more on cellular analysis regardless of the application. The former has traditionally played in the areas of high-throughput and high-content screening technologies, while the latter has maintained a focus on flow cytometry and, more recently, plate-based and other methods of cellular analysis.
 
Both organizations have had considerable experience in establishing standards in the biotechnology industry. ISAC was instrumental in establishing standards for flow cytometry, which allowed the industry to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s.
 
Meanwhile, SBS helped drive the formation of standards for screening microplates, resulting in the industry-standard 96-well format that is registered with the National Cancer Institute, “so it really has clout and has done a tremendous amount of good,” Kolb said.
 
“Before that standard was developed, every manufacturer of microplates had a slightly different format, and they didn’t all work with the automation that was out there,” Kolb said. “Some worked with some bits of automation, and others didn’t, and it really created havoc. Now, that standard works with any type of automation. ISAC thinks the same thing is needed for image standards.”
 
The HCS community has been calling for image standards for the last year or two, as instrumentation platforms, high-content assay protocols, image-analysis software packages, and data-analysis methods have steadily flooded the market.
 
One of the more vocal proponents of standards has been Ilya Ravkin, an independent HCS consultant and former executive at defunct high-content screening vendor Vitra Bioscience. Last year Ravkin established an online repository of standard images for important high-content cell-based assays, and organized the special interest group at this and last year’s SBS conference (see CBA News, 6/9/2006).

 
“The areas of interest between SBS and ISAC overlap a lot, so it makes a lot of sense to somehow unite the groups in these areas,” Ravkin told CBA News. “The flow cytometry people, as well as the microarray people, were able to come up with a standard that allows people to exchange their data, allows the users to use best of breed [products], and creates and open-market opportunity for other companies and individuals to come in and contribute.
 

“The flow cytometry people, as well as the microarray people, were able to come up with a standard that allows people to exchange their data, allows the users to use best of breed [products], and creates and open-market opportunity for other companies and individuals to come in and contribute.”

“Otherwise, only the players that can provide a more or less complete solution to the customer can exist in this field,” Ravkin added. “If there is a standard, then everybody can exist in this field.”
 
Another organization that has recently gotten involved in the drive toward HCS image standards is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. At an HCS end-user forum at Cambridge Healthtech Institute's High-Content Analysis meeting in January, NIST representative John Elliott led a discussion group that veered toward HCS standardization issues. As a result, Elliott and colleagues at NIST began considering the formation of an industry-wide consortium to help guide the development of image analysis standards (see CBA News, 2/10/2006).
 
NIST has been attempting to pull together the various HCS vendors to form a standard which, despite the intimations of many vendors that such cooperation would be welcome, has proven a difficult task.
 
The participation of industry- and academia-focused professional organizations such as SBS and ISAC may provide the additional structural organization and incentive needed to achieve HCS standards, and the groups would likely welcome NIST aboard, Kolb said.
 
“We don’t want to leave groups out, but we do want to keep it controlled so we can make progress,” Kolb said. “Anyone who has already been working in this area could take advantage of their expertise to make this work for everyone.
 

“The more we can get customers to say, ‘I want to see these standards used,’ then the more the manufacturers and instrumentation developers are going to want to meet these standards because that’s what the customers want,” he added. “Organizations like ISAC and NIST have experience doing this that SBS doesn’t, but SBS has a fairly strong following and a strong organization that can hopefully help make this happen as part of that group. We’re not going to be the dog and they’re the tail. We want to make sure we meet the needs of the industry with which our members work.”

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