(HOUSTON) — The Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Institute of Biosciences and Technology has acquired a cutting-edge analysis system – currently the only one of its kind used by academia in North America – enabling researchers to faster and more effectively study disease cell lines such as cancer.

From left, Peter Davies, Ph.D., M.D., professor and director of the Center for Translational Cancer Research (CTCR) at the TAMHSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology and holder of the Margaret M. Alkek Endowed Chair; Michael Mancini, Ph.D., of Baylor College of Medicine with a cross-appointment at TAMHSC; and Clifford Stephan, Ph.D., CTCR assistant professor.

The system was acquired through a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) grant to Clifford Stephan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the TAMHSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology Center for Translational Cancer Research. The new fully automated high throughput microscope is a key component of an academic drug discovery program also supported by the Gulf Coast Consortium for Chemical Genomics (GCC-CG), a multi-institutional Texas Medical Center program that recently relocated to the TAMHSC.

“We are extremely proud of this grant and the efforts of the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in progressing research that will make a difference for citizens of the state and nation,” said John Sharp, M.P.A., chancellor of The Texas A&M University System.

The IN Cell Analyzer 6000 from GE Healthcare is a high-performance laser-based, confocal, high-content analysis system. A self-contained unit, the analysis system’s uniqueness is the mechanism for confocality, a fully adjustable aperture and next-generation, large format, scientific-grade CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) camera. Its ability to automatically move from low to high magnification without additional setup also saves valuable study time.

“The IN Cell Analyzer 6000 was the clear instrument of choice for all facets of our screening program due to its innate speed, simplicity of operation and overall high quality engineering and manufacturing by GE Healthcare and its newly acquired subsidiary, Applied Precision,” said Michael Mancini, Ph.D., GCC-CG co-director and longstanding developer of high throughput microscopy applications at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Mancini recently was cross-appointed as a TAMHSC faculty member.

The IN Cell Analyzer 6000 will primarily support research projects seeking to identify new strategies for cancer therapies based on the use of drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but whose potential – either alone or in combination – as cancer therapeutics may not have been recognized, Dr. Stephan said. These studies with investigators throughout Texas who have unique cell lines could include cell viability, apoptosis and necrosis markers in conjunction with high throughput screening.

Follow on and secondary screening of active drug cocktails will be used to determine the mechanism of action or drug target validation studies in model systems that express fluorescently tagged proteins of interest or through the use of antibodies or fluorescent dyes, Dr. Stephan said.

Additionally, through the development of highly customized assays and use of a GCC-CG-wide software platform for image analysis, the IN Cell Analyzer 6000 will be used to simultaneously quantify multiple cellular readouts, including determination of target protein levels and subcellular localization, cell cycle and gene expression.

“We’re particularly excited about using the new scope for 3D tumor spheroid cell cultures, as these model systems are much more physiological than typical monolayer cultures,” Dr. Mancini said.

High-throughput screening is a process whereby very large numbers of drugs or compounds are tested for activity against various target molecules.

“We use the CPRIT high throughput combinatorial screening program for the identification of drug combinations or ‘cocktails’ that can be used for addressing issues such as chemoprevention, overcoming resistance to current standards of care and reducing toxicity associated with current drug cocktails being used in the treatment of cancer,” Dr. Stephan said. “With the data from these studies, we will be able to analyze a large number of parameters for each individual cell in the well of a plate. This high content analysis is very different from standard biochemical assays, where the data is a mean from all of the cells in a well and not the individual cells themselves.”

Working alongside Drs. Stephan and Mancini on the IN Cell Analyzer 6000 is Peter Davies, Ph.D., M.D., professor and director of the Center for Translational Cancer Research at TAMHSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology and holder of the Margaret M. Alkek Endowed Chair.

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