In this podcast and accompanying article, we interviewed Dr. Kimberly Wicklund, Head of Product Management for the IncuCyte® at Sartorius about how live cell analysis is meeting the needs of advanced cell models and how the launch of the new IncuCyte SX1 is providing scientists more options when it comes to using live cell analysis in their workflows.
We began the podcast by discussing how cell modeling and cell systems have evolved significantly. I asked Dr. Wicklund if she could explain for listeners how cell monitoring has advanced to meet these needs. She described how researchers are looking for physiological relevance in their cell models and cell systems and are making a shift from simple, recombinant cell systems, and moving towards primary cells or stem-cell derived cells that are often human and patient-specific. Co-cultures, multi-cultures and tissue organoid models offer significant promise, but also present challenges to the typical cell workflows, which puts huge pressure on instrumentation to keep up. She went on to stress the importance of taking cell health into account first and foremost in instrumentation, but also to consider the end users as well to ensure that their work can be done efficiently and that their cells are being used efficiently as well.
Next I asked Kim if she could explain live cell analysis and how is it different from endpoint workflows like flow cytometry. She explained that live cell analysis centers on the dimension of time and it centers on repeated measurements of the same populations of cells. She then provided a great analogy, she said “If you think about your favorite sport, do you want to see the score half-way through and nothing else, or do you want to watch how it evolved? If you only see the score at a point in time, how do you know who won, and how do you feel about the next game? You would have no idea what’s to come.”
We then discussed why live cell analysis a good fit for advanced cell systems like primary cells and stem cell derived cells. Kim continued with her sports analogy by explaining, “if you’re watching a game, you want to know what team started strong and then lost their edge, what players really shined, that can change in an instant. So think of your cell models as your favorite team, full of different personalities that can be considered unpredictable until you watch them long enough and really dig in and put them in an environment that doesn’t change and then and only can you begin to predict.”
Next I asked Kim if she could get a bit more specific and describe the IncuCyte live-cell analysis technology and why is it a good fit for these more advanced cell models. She explained that it starts with being an advocate for the cells and the scientists. She went on to say that with the IncuCyte, cells are put in a precise and robust environment, a standard tissue culture incubator. Cells are then left in one spot and the IncuCyte’s mobile optical system travels to the cells and captures images repeatedly, over time. For the scientists, the IncuCyte is as simple and as automated as possible from placing the cells into the IncuCyte until the time when you are getting results. She said that during product development, we have our team of biologists that are sitting right alongside the engineers saying, “I need this to be fewer clicks” or “I need this to suit my workflow” or “I don’t want to figure that out, that’s more technology than biology.” And that’s the rule, if it gets too complicated, then we’re wasting cells and we’re wasting scientists’ time. And we don’t like to do that!
We then talked about an exciting announcement that Sartorius is making at ISSCR this week. Kim explained that they are expanding the IncuCyte product portfolio to include another model, the IncuCyte SX1. Kim explained that the SX1 offers the same information-rich analysis and streamlined user experience as the flagship model, the IncuCyte S3. However, she described that the S3 is a workhorse that can accommodate multiple experiments in parallel, up to six microplate experiments at a time, which is ideal for a lab that has a substantial workload with many users performing live-cell analysis on a daily or weekly basis. But not every lab has that demanding of a workload. A lab might be new to live cell, or there may be fewer users, and that is the lab that might prefer an SX1.
I told Kim that scientists will want to know how it will make their research better, more efficient and more productive. She then described some of the key workflow advantages of the IncuCyte including the ability to observe and measure cell models during the entire cell biology workflow, from culture to manipulation to assay and imaging and analyzing cell culture flasks around the clock. She listed several key workflow steps that could be accomplished using the IncuCyte including ensuring cell seeding densities are consistent, validating successful transfection, performing an assay at microplate scale to see what happens in response to a treatment or a knock-down, just to share a few examples. Kim finished by saying that the IncuCyte accommodates a range of applications for analysis of cell health, movement, morphology or function that can easily be adapted to advanced cell models.
I stated that one of the most impressive aspects of the IncuCyte technology to me is that there are over 2,500 peer-reviewed articles discussing applications of the IncuCyte and new uses of are being developed all the time. I asked her how they handle questions from users during implementation of some of these new applications and what kind of support is offered to end users. Kim shared that she thinks one of the greatest strengths of IncuCyte support is the fact that applications are developed from start to finish in their own labs. They take questions from users, sit with biologists, and then provide all the tools that they need from start to finish to answer that question. That means that they develop appropriate reagents, vesselware, and software to get a scientist from point A to point B with as little trial and error as possible, plus they look at multiple and relevant cell types and cell models to evolve applications.
I followed up by asking if they utilized the information from users about new applications in developing the new IncuCyte model. She said yes, what they saw was that every cell biologist had a need to observe their cells across the entire workflow, from the moment cells are placed in culture. With the SX1, an individual user can improve their cell culture quality control, ensure quality downstream analysis, and generate an information-rich analysis at a scale that is not practical with traditional cell analysis technologies.
I said that it must be very exciting to see all these new uses for the IncuCyte being developed and asked based on what she has seen, if she had thoughts on the future of live cell analysis. Kim said there is so much to look forward to. We are seeing our users embarking on exciting fields like cell therapy and personalized medicine, and taking advantage of game changing technologies like CRISPR. It’s not just about seeing how a cell responds, it’s about manipulating and leveraging all that a cell has to offer. When you start realizing we have everything we need to combat disease, repair an organ, or determine what treatment we need in our own bodies it just fills you with such hope and excitement for the future!
I closed the interview by asking if there was anything else she wanted to add for our listeners? She said that expanding the IncuCyte portfolio is a big step towards fulfilling our vision that every cell biologist can gain live-cell insights with an IncuCyte.
For more information about the IncuCyte portfolio of products, please see essenbio.com/incucyte