New high throughput cell-selection system to speed medical advances and research
Edinburgh Genome Foundry has invested in a cutting edge system, funded by a £2 million grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), that will speed advances in medicine and fast-track other areas of science.
The Beacon® Optofluidics system from Berkeley Lights, offers a radical improvement in the speed and ease of developing, analysing and selecting cells that produce the key components of new treatments, therapies and drugs.
The system will also speed the development of basic academic research which increasingly requires working with large data sets and the ability to work at speed and scale.
Edinburgh Genome Foundry, a research facility based at the University of Edinburgh, is the first institution in Europe, outside of industry, to purchase and offer access to this system.
The Foundry will provide open access to the system, making it available to new and existing customers in academia and industry across the world.
It will enable advances that mean research projects can rapidly progress to understand and find new ways to tackle disease, and potential treatments can reach clinical trials faster.
Producing cells that have useful medical or research properties involves analysis of thousands of cells to identify those with the optimal properties, prior to selection and scaling up of their production.
The system provides researchers with a one-stop shop that automates and simplifies this process - improving accuracy, reducing costs and shortening timescales from months to days.
Traditional methods of sifting through, analysing and manipulating thousands of cells is precise, labour intensive work that is open to human error and often requires months of laboratory work.
Expanding the Automated Platform
The integration of the new Beacon system, builds on and expands Edinburgh Genome Foundry’s sophisticated automated platform – one of the most advanced in the world.
The Foundry builds genetic constructs for academic and industrial customers to equip cells or whole organisms with new or improved functions.
Projects using this pipeline include programming stem cells for use in personalised medicine, vaccine development, gene therapy, living biosensors and optical tools for basic biological research.
It is amazing cutting edge technology that allows you to use light to select and sift thousands of individual cells at once. This will enable us to perform high-throughput single cell analysis at huge scale resulting in deep profiling with relevant phenotypic, genotypic and imaging information for each cell. There is nothing else like it. This is the first Beacon system to be placed in an academic institution in Europe. It is exciting for us to access the power of the system and open it up to work with our academic and industrial colleagues.
Acquiring the Beacon System allows Edinburgh Genome Foundry to derive high quality, high-throughput analytical data on thousands of individual cells, without the need for a whole room of equipment, expanding the Foundry’s state-of-the-art infrastructure. This not only gives us the ability to identify the ‘needle in a haystack’ cell with unique and desirable properties but also enables machine learning approaches which are not feasible with current methodologies.
Berkeley Lights is pleased to work with the Edinburgh Genome Foundry as they expand global access to digital cell biology for scientists in both academia and industry. Based at the University of Edinburgh, the Foundry combines multidisciplinary research with the time-saving power of the Beacon system which will enable scientists to make important discoveries at a speed and scale not previously available. We look forward to seeing how our technology helps to advance cell science and therapeutics developed at Edinburgh Genome Foundry.
The Beacon® Optofluidics system provides a precisely controlled environment which can analyse up 10,000 individual cells.
Light is used to move individual cells into isolated chambers, called NanoPenTM chambers, for culturing, assaying, and high-resolution imaging and in-chip analysis.
Such detailed analysis of individual cells, allows a cell’s function to be linked to its underlying genes.
The vast amount of analytical data generated feeds into a machine learning process that improves and accelerates the discovery process over time.
This allows researchers to identify promising cells, or their products, that would be difficult to find using traditional methods. The platform can easily retrieve those cells and scale up their production.
The system will help speed the development of new medical advances and treatments.
The ability to engineer cells to produce useful therapeutic compounds is set to revolutionise healthcare – potentially developing cures rather than simply relieving symptoms of some diseases.
It could lead to the development of gene therapies to treat inherited diseases, or the ability to engineer stem cells as new treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or diabetes.
Cells could also be engineered to be more productive ‘factories’ for antibodies – one of the few ways to manufacture these powerful medicines used to treat cancers and inflammatory diseases.
Seven of the world’s top 10 best-selling drugs are antibody-based. Advances in their production could offer patients cheaper and higher quality treatments and lead to new therapeutics. The approach could also help in tackling future disease outbreaks and speed the development of vaccines.
The Beacon system has already been used to tackle COVID-19, speeding up the development of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The system will also enable advances in the rapidly expanding field of engineering biology.
Engineering biology involves breaking the genome into smaller parts of DNA – the building blocks of life - to better understand how living systems work, offering new insights into health and disease.
Genetic parts can also be reused, redesigned and combined to reprogram existing living systems or build new biological systems – including enzymes and cells – with useful applications.
Cells could be programmed, for example, to behave as new diagnostics and sensors - capable of patrolling the body to detect the early stages of disease.
The engineering biology process is characterized by three steps: design, build and test that operate in a continuous cycle to drive improvements to the design and achieve the desired result.
The Beacon system will reduce the timescales for this process from weeks to days, compared to conventional laboratory processes.
Edinburgh Genome Foundry opened in 2016 and provides a highly automated platform specialising in the assembly of large DNA fragments.
Using robots and automated processes, it can assemble large pieces of DNA from smaller parts faster, cheaper and more efficiently than traditional laboratory methods, fast-tracking research.
Scientists can now design, and have built, DNA from the ground up – mixing and matching genetic parts to see how they work.
This enables new insights into how genetics influences health and disease as well as the ability to equip cells or whole organisms with useful medical or industrial properties.
The Foundry is one of only a handful of foundries around the world that has the capability to design, build and test DNA in this way.