Nikon instruments last week inaugurated a new core imaging center in collaboration with the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3) and the University of California at San Francisco, and said that the facility will feature instruments for high-content screening.
The new facility will be housed in the UCSF Mission Bay Campus Center for Advanced Technology in Genentech Hall, and will be a core facility for all of UCSF and QB3's faculty, staff, and collaborative researchers. The imaging center could also serve as a product development site for new Nikon imaging products, in particular for toxicology research in drug discovery.
Nikon, based in Melville, NY, and its dealer, Technical Instruments, have donated an undisclosed amount to endow the imaging center. It is the fourth such center that Nikon has established, with others located at Harvard University, the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and Hokkaido University in Japan.
"As an optics company, [Nikon is] not going to jump into anything specific, because we can't see that the market can substantiate it right now."
The facility will feature specialty Nikon microscopes, including three different kinds of laser-based confocal microscopes, total internal reflection fluorescence microscopes, systems for high-content screening, and imaging workstations featuring live-cell biomedical research microscopes.
It is unclear what type of high-content screening systems will be installed at the facility. Calls to QB3 and UCSF were not returned in time for this publication.
According to Stan Schwartz, Nikon's vice-president of products and marketing, Nikon does not manufacture high-content screening instruments, per se; however, its core microscope components are found within several HCS instruments on the market, including GE Healthcare's IN Cell 1000 and 3000, Molecular Devices' ImageXpress and Discovery-1, and Beckman Coulter's IC 100.
Schwartz told CBA News that he was not sure which HCS platforms the new imaging center would be using. The UCSF/QB3 facility will, however, be the first of Nikon's four imaging centers to use such equipment.
"We take the making of the microscope objective, what I call the front end of any imaging device, very seriously," Schwartz said. "[Our] inverted microscopes … are used a lot in high-content screening, and many companies use Nikon inside.
"Nikon is used as an OEM provider of the front end of many of these HCS machines," he added.
Nikon competitor Carl Zeiss supplied the front-end equipment that enables Fisher brand Cellomics' high-content screening instruments. Prior to Fisher's acquisition of Cellomics, Zeiss also served as a distribution partner for Cellomics in certain markets. Nikon, however, doesn't get involved in the sales and marketing of the HCS instruments it enables, nor does it plan to, Schwartz said.
"As an optics company, we're not going to jump into anything specific, because we can't see that the market can substantiate it right now," Schwartz said. "However, a lot of the interest in drug discovery, in light of the Merck Vioxx story, has been switched over to drug safety and toxicology. That I see as a huge market, and one that pharmaceutical companies are going to have to take."
As such, he said, Nikon thinks it can make headway in this market with its current product offerings, such as its confocal and other fluorescence-based microscope platforms; systems capable of imaging multiple dyes; and systems that allow for long-term cell cultivation for extended imaging. In the future, he said, Nikon would also likely create more "push-button" dedicated platforms for such applications.
The UCSF/QB3 imaging center could help Nikon develop such platforms. In a statement, Nikon said that the center "will provide a platform for the development of new microscopy technologies, software, analytic techniques, and imaging methods."
Schwartz added that Nikon would probably not endeavor to build its own high-throughput-style HCS instrument, however.
"What are the components for a high-content screening unit?" he asked. "You need that front end, and a lot of automation, but you need two other things: unbelievable software and you need the assay.
"So we don't do the assay, and we really don't particularly do the specific software, but we partner with people who do," he added.
QB3, Nikon, and UCSF officially inaugurated the facility in a ceremony at UCSF's Mission Bay Campus Center for Advanced Technology. However, Schwartz said that it would likely take three to four more months for the imaging facility to be "up and running."
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])