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Fluidigm's New Immune Cell Profiling Assay Could Boost Use of Mass Cytometry


This article originally stated that Verity Software House was founded by Cliff Reid, which was incorrect. We have removed the error from the article. We also updated the article to note additional capabilities of 10x Genomics' technology.

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Fluidigm has launched a new, multiplexed, antibody-based assay for immune cell profiling on its mass cytometry platform.

Comprising a single-tube assay pre-loaded with 30 metal-labelled antibodies that target common immune cell protein markers and a custom-developed software analyzer that can identify 37 immune cell types, Fluidigm said the Maxpar Direct Immune Profiling System is the industry’s "first complete sample-to-answer solution" for peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) and whole blood samples. The assay also has seven channels open for researchers to create customized panels, either from Fluidigm’s stock of conjugated antibodies, or through the firm’s conjugation kits and services.

"The Immune Profiling System not only offers a comprehensive view of immune cell populations using highly multiplexed mass cytometry, but it can also support the development of a common set of data standards for studying the immune system,” Michaeline Bunting, Fluidigm's senior director of marketing, told GenomeWeb.

The South San Francisco-based firm designed the assay to run on its Helios CyTOF platform and said it expects the product to drive instrument placements and appeal to labs with existing Helios instruments, especially academic core facilities. The firm added that the assay offers great consistency, demonstrated in an early-access program that involved six sites; this aspect could appeal to pharmaceutical firms and contract research organizations serving them.

Maxpar Direct joins a number of solutions for identifying the receptor proteins presented by immune cells. NanoString Technologies and Illumina offer technologies that quantify RNA transcripts, while 10x Genomics offers technology that can not only perform RNA-transcript-based profiling of immune cells but also surface protein profiling and antigen mapping. And last week, Biognosys announced that its mass spectrometry-based discovery proteomics might soon be ready for use in clinical trials.

But Fluidigm said that combining proteomic and single-cell approaches differentiates Maxpar Direct from both bulk proteomic or multi-omics technologies and single-cell RNA sequencing technologies.

"If you look at immunology as a field, cell identification has been largely defined by the expression of protein markers," Bunting said. "This is important to consider when selecting technologies to interrogate immune response. Although mRNA expression can provide complementary information, mRNA expression patterns do not necessarily reflect the presence or absence of the corresponding proteins."

As discoveries continue to reveal the human immune system's important role in a variety of diseases, especially in cancer, Maxpar Direct could be an easy way into immune profiling.

"It'll be a way to quickly get up and running on mass cytometry," Marie Iannone, director of the Mass Cytometry Lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told GenomeWeb. Ioanne runs a core facility that provides academic and commercial researchers access to the Helios platform. Though she has not yet used the Maxpar Direct system, she said it looked comparable to Fluidigm’s Maxpar Human Immune Monitoring Panel (which offers 29 markers), a product she does have experience with.

"One advantage to the [Maxpar Direct] kit design is that it comes in a pre-titered format," Iannone said. "Therefore, a lot of the upfront and time-consuming work of titrating antibodies to determine optimal staining concentration is already done. This allows users to get data very quickly."

She also noted that the custom-built Maxpar Pathsetter software adds speed. "That allows [researchers] to get data faster without having to learn how to gate mass cytometry data, if they're new to it."

The system could be "useful for primary investigators that might need some quick preliminary data to include in a grant application," Iannone said.

Pete Betzelos, Fluidigm’s senior VP of global marketing, said Maxpar Direct offered core labs several ways to grow their business.

"For immune profiling core labs, they see this as a way they can access more researchers," he said. "In networks with a single core lab, the assay provides highly reproducible results with samples coming from multiple investigators." He added that core labs now have "a standard solution that they can they easily customize by adding up to seven additional antibodies. They can share this product offering within their institution and beyond to their networks."

"Given its consistency run to run and site to site, it is also an ideal solution for large multi-cohort or multi-site studies," he said.

That consistency was validated during Fluidigm's early-access program, Bunting said. "What we did was a program designed to have researchers test the product in their own labs, with their own mass cytometry system, using samples we provided," she said.

Bunting said the program was "very successful," but declined to disclose more information about it, including the locations of the six participating sites. The Maxpar Direct system is currently available, however, Fluidigm declined to disclose pricing.

Bunting noted that the assay includes the tubes, protocols, staining, and components. Betzelos added that the Pathsetter software is provided via an annual site license, which comes with the kit and is renewable, he said. Fluidigm developed the software with Verity Software House.

Fluidigm declined to disclose early order numbers, "but we had a lot of very interested customers," Bunting said.

Betzelos suggested the new product could drive interest in the Helios platform. "Some institutions have multiple sites within their network. One may already have an interest in doing immune profiling and have a Helios, but there may be two or three [sites] that don't. What this represents is a propulsion forward where they might acquire a Helios and implement testing at that site, driving additional placements of the system in conjunction with the assay," he said.

Fluidigm said it would report sales of the new product as part of its mass cytometry instruments, consumables, and service market segment.