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Becton Dickinson Advancing Rapid Image-Based Cell Sorting Tech


NEW YORK – Becton Dickinson is developing a faster, more complex cell sorting technology than conventional flow cytometry that is slated to be incorporated into a future commercial product.

The company highlighted the core technology — called the BD CellView Image Technology —last week in a call with investors as well as in a recent publication in Science.

On the call, Tom Polen, BD's president and CEO, said that the firm's flow cytometry instrument in development that will use the technology will be called the BD FACSDiscover S8.

"The S8 is a landmark advancement in flow cytometry that has the potential to transform a wide range of disciplines from immunology and genomics research to cell-based therapeutics," he said.

The CellView Image Technology enables cell sorting at very high speeds, "while separating cells not only based on which antibodies or other markers we see, but also based on new imaging parameters," Polen said.

Specifically, while most flow cytometers can analyze and sort cells based on three non-fluorescent parameters with processing speeds of 15 megabytes per second, "the S8 analyzes and sorts on 11 non-fluorescent parameters and has processing speeds of up to 2,000 megabytes per second," Polen said.

BD further noted that the technology can sort individual cells based on cellular characteristics at speeds of almost a million cells per minute.

However, the company declined to provide additional details about its commercialization plans for the FACSDiscovery S8 at this time.

For the Science study, researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, collaborated with BD scientists to show that image-enabled cell sorting using multicolor fluorescence images could be used to quantify cell morphology and localize labeled proteins. For example, it could increase the resolution of cell cycle analyses by separating mitotic stages.

The team also combined the technology with CRISPR-pooled screens to complete genome-wide image-based screens in about nine hours of run time, according to the study.

Puneet Sarin, worldwide president at BD Biosciences, said in an email that although BD commercialized the first cell sorter in the 1970s and has contributed to many advances since then, the CellView Image Technology is the "next leap forward in the evolution of flow cytometry."

He noted that one of the core methods underpinning the CellView Image Technology is signal processing algorithms that have been employed for years in the wireless communications industry.

Eric Diebold, BD's VP of research and development and a co-author of the study, further explained that the technology can measure "not only the total expression levels of proteins in the traditional flow cytometry sense, but it can also evaluate the spatial distribution of those proteins through simultaneous fluorescence, brightfield, and darkfield imaging."

The technology can then sort cells at speeds of up to 15,000 cells each second, he added.

In this way, the technology "unlocks new dimensions in cell analysis" because researchers can now sort on more granular spatial and morphological qualities of individual cells, "and not solely based on the amount of a biomarker that's present," he said.

Combining the capability to ask novel biological questions with an accelerated pace compared to existing technologies is "what makes BD CellView Image Technology truly unique," he noted. "It combines the speed of flow cytometry with real-time image-based analysis and sorting to allow researchers to do things that previously were not possible."

Going forward, Sarin said that flow cytometry will continue to play an essential role in BD's business.

For example, this month BD acquired Spanish cytometry applications developer Cytognos for an undisclosed amount. Polen noted on the call that Cytognos' differentiated flow cytometry assays for the detection of minimal residual disease in cancer bring "an important addition" to BD's biosciences business.

Sarin also said that BD is striving to "be the leading provider of innovative tools that drive a deeper understanding of the human immune system and unlock its unique power to fight diseases like HIV and cancer — and flow cytometry is a fundamental tool at the heart of that story."

For example, according to BD researchers at Stanford University plan to apply the CellView Image Technology to high-resolution genomic screening projects, as well as a to cell-based diagnostics and to characterize cells from healthy and disease states.

But for Diebold, the greatest excitement is in imagining future applications for this tool that are yet to be discovered by the scientific community.

"I am quite confident that new use cases will emerge for image-based cell sorting that will impact research and therapeutic development in untold ways," he said.