January 1, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 1)

A number of HCS vendors will be launching software packages to go along with their instrument portfolios at “High Content Screening’s” Technology Showcase. According to Mark Collins, marketing manager for cellular imaging at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the focus in the field is no longer on the instrumentation, but on how to capture, analyze, and manage the image data such that you can extract meaningful information out of multiple measurements made per cell. That’s not to say that the throughput has not changed. In fact, screeners are using HCS approaches to process up to 40,000 wells per day. That’s high-throughput biology.

At the showcase, Collins will highlight the latest IT tools his group has developed that enable screeners to extract “omic knowledge from HCS data”—in effect, to allow the “human cellome” to be built.

“It’s not about—in fact, it was never about—just getting pretty pictures. It’s about building the database of cell-based knowledge in a reproducible manner,” Collins says. “What I mean about extracting omic knowledge is linking the HCS image data to other data sources like genomics and proteomics. For example, linking HCS data to altered phenotypes that result from decreased gene expression levels generated by RNAi knockdowns.”

Daniel Collins, application scientist and a member of the North American field support team at GE Healthcare, provides customers with pre- and post-sales support for anything having to do with the IN Cell 1000.

“At the technology showcase, we will be highlighting our new acquisition and analysis software module that enables image stitching for working with large images or model organisms like zebrafish and flatworms,” he notes. “The software allows us to capture the image in multiple frames, find the overlaps, and then piece the whole thing together to form a larger image.

“We will also be sharing our new onboard cell-counting feature that allows the end-user to capture a pre-set number of cellular images they need for the desired statistics they want to run. The instrument has a sophisticated focusing system that allows us to count cells based on nuclear staining while avoiding overlapping cells or cells stuck at the edge of wells or even binucleated cells.”

Scott McDonald, vp, software R&D, at BD Biosciences’ bioimaging systems, is also presenting at the showcase. BD Biosciences has been involved in HCS since it acquired Atto Biosciences in 2004. The company has two bioimaging systems currently on the market, the BD Pathway™ 435 and 855 Bioimagers. The 855 Bioimager has an integrated environmental control chamber that allows for imaging of both live cells and fixed cells. The simpler 435 Bioimager is designed to image fixed cells only.

“We plan to provide attendees with an early introduction to our new software package that runs on both BD Pathway 435 and 855 instruments,” McDonald says. “We will be sharing examples that highlight the utility of this custom-built data-analysis package that can be used to process and analyze data from both kinetic and endpoint assays.”

The BD Pathway software provides a suite of integrated tools to accomplish all the tasks required of end-users in HCS, McDonald adds. The software is designed to accommodate the needs of many users with access to predefined applications and the flexibility to enable users to develop their own assay protocols. With the open nature of the system, advanced users will be able to extend the software with their own image processing and data-analysis capabilities.

Mike Sjaastad, marketing director, cellular imaging at MDS Analytical Technologies, will represent his company at the showcase event. According to Sjaastad, Molecular Devices has long been focused on the development of complete solutions for HCS. Now, regardless of the instrument format—confocal, camera-based, or large-format laser-scanning system—all instrumentation from Molecular Devices can use the same image analysis software and same data management tools, he says.

“We’ve focused on streamlining our customer’s workflow by integrating the instrumentation with software tools and a database for ease of data capture, analysis, storage, and management,” Sjaastad adds. “Our overarching theme is to provide a complete solution, expanding the software modules with features that allow for improved cellular image acquisition and analysis. The current focus is to increase speed and flexibility. We’ve also integrated AcuityXpress data-analysis software, an HCS-oriented tool much like Spotfire, which allows the end-user to track data points to their origin by viewing the associated image data.”

Molecular Devices will be highlighting the integration of Blueshift IsoCyte with the MDS Complete Solution at the showcase. Acquired in 2008, IsoCyte is being integrated with high-speed image-analysis tools to provide customers with fast and simple cellular analysis tools in high content, McDonald notes. With IsoCyte, customers will be able to use image-based assays and approach throughputs originally reserved for HTS, such as screening one million compounds per week, he explains.

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