Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Cellomics group this week launched several new improvements for its ArrayScan high-content screening platform, including a module that will allow researchers to perform brightfield assays alongside their fluorescent imaging experiments.
The company has also restructured the licensing terms for its BioApplications suite of image-analysis algorithms to create a more “cost-effective” offering for end-users, according to a company official.
Mark Collins, senior product manager for informatics at Thermo’s Cellomics group, said that the company does not disclose pricing information for its products, but noted that Cellomics has created bundles of BioApplications that enable a far lower per-seat cost than in the past.
“We want to dispel the perception that our BioApplication suite is very expensive,” Collins said. “I think people will be extremely pleasantly surprised at the value that they’re getting … for the functionality they get.”
The changes are part of a broad spectrum of hardware and software enhancements that Thermo showcased this week at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences Meeting in Montreal [see related article, this issue]. On the hardware side, the new brightfield module is expected to expand the experimental range of the ArrayScan, Collins said, while the company’s new software capabilities are largely intended to improve integration with third-party tools.
A Little Black Box
Collins described the new brightfield module as “a little black box” that researchers can clip onto their ArrayScan readers to add white-light microscopy to the platform’s existing fluorescence capability.
“Would I say that brightfield is high-content screening? Probably not, but it’s certainly high-content analysis,” Collins said. “It’s another tool to make the data a little bit more robust and to be able to be more flexible.”
Collins said that many Cellomics customers requested the brightfield capability in order to add an extra experimental parameter to their studies. For example, he said, the approach is very useful for determining how many cells there are in a plate, because in certain applications, such as toxicity assays, fluorescent imaging doesn’t detect the cells that die.
Brightfield is also useful in applications in which introducing probes or labels into the cells would be undesirable, such as stem cell research, where researchers are wary of triggering unwanted differentiation by perturbing the cells.
Collins acknowledged that some of the company’s competitors also offer brightfield capability. For instance, Harvard Bioscience’s Maia Scientific says the brightfield capability of its MIAS-2 system is a key advantage in the marketplace [CBAN 1-27-06].
But Collins said that the Cellomics platform is unique in the market because the same ArrayScan image analysis software that works for fluorescent imaging can be used to analyze the brightfield images.
With competing systems, he said, “You have to go out to another piece of software to get the brightfield image and it’s not integrated in with the [fluorescence image analysis] software.” With the ArrayScan, he said, “you could take a brightfield image, focus on that image, take a picture, take a fluorescent picture, and have that all be analyzed and visualized together.”
Gaining Ground in HCS Software
Cellomics views its software as a differentiator in other areas beyond brightfield — and even beyond its own HCS instruments.
Around three years ago, the company embarked upon a strategy to open up its image-analysis, data-mining, and data-management software platforms to third-party tools, and Collins said that sales to customers using competing platforms currently make up a “reasonable proportion” of its software business.
“Many of our big customers have lots of different kinds of readers because they need lots of different kinds of functionality,” Collins said. Even so, many of these larger customers have standardized on the Cellomics informatics platform, “so we’ve responded with more software that’s independent of the ArrayScan.”
Cellomics this week launched several new improvements for its ArrayScan high-content screening platform, including a module that will allow researchers to perform brightfield assays alongside their fluorescent imaging experiments. The company also lowered the per-seat price for its BioApplications suite of image analysis algorithms.
Collins estimated that “around 90 percent of the world’s high-content data is managed by our informatics software” and noted that “a growing proportion” of the company’s business is to customers who don’t have ArrayScans — a trend that Cellomics expects to continue.
“We’ve been pretty successful over the last two or three years at really getting in with the IT groups in pharma and biotech and even academic institutions, and helping them to manage and plan for the kind of data that these kinds of readers produce,” he said.
In line with that strategy, the company this week launched HCSExplorer, a web-based HCS data-analysis system that is integrated with third-party software tools, such as Spotfire’s DecisionSite and Genedata’s Screener (see related article, this issue), as well as with third-party hardware platforms, such as the Opera from PerkinElmer’s Evotec business.
Collins said that HCSExplorer allows users to easily perform very complex searches and also offers the ability to browse images via thumbnail images of entire plates.
“A lot of people like to just get a quick overview of their experiment by looking at a plate’s worth of images, so we’ve implemented that,” he said.
The software package also offers the ability to annotate high-content data with gene names or compound names. In order to enable seamless integration with other software packages and to enable sharing with external research groups that may not user the same terms for the same thing, HCSExplorer allows users to set up dictionaries that underlie the annotation.
“Just because I call it a HeLa cell, you might not call it a HeLa cell, but I can set up a dictionary — almost an ontology — in the software that drives those annotations,” he said.
In addition to HCSExplorer, Cellomics also launched version 3 of its BioApplications suite, which includes the ability to measure larger image sizes and more objects within any given field.