Single-cell mass spectrometry

Yokogawa technology has been selected for the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s next-generation technology transfer program. The technology has made a major step forward towards the development of a confocal image single-cell drug discovery support system.

OK, its not what you expect to read about on an instrumentation and control newsletter website blog, but instrumentation gets into some interesting areas. One of the real advantages of the University system as I saw it, in Cambridge, was that you had researchers from many different disciplines side by side at dinner, in the bar, or just happening to talk to each other. OK, I left there 50 years ago, but still go back for the occasional event/dinner etc – why not, I had fun there. Last month I went back for the 50th anniversary dinner – presumably Churchill College want to make sure I remember them when I write a new Will – and sat next to a young Japanese lady who was using a Yokogawa confocal scanner to monitor the neuron messages in the brain of a fruit fly. Apparently the fruit fly does not think about much, other than fruit, so his neurons are easiest to track, and this is the technology you need.

I have to say its not easy to keep track after several aperitifs and two different courses, with the wine, but for an electrical engineer cum journalist I kept up. So now read what the real description says….

Yokogawa Electric Corporation has announced that its confocal image single-cell drug discovery support system has been selected for the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s (JST) next-generation technology transfer program (NexTEP). NexTEP was created to promote efforts by companies to find practical applications for the technologies (including those covered by patents) and research findings of universities and public research institutions.

Through this undertaking, JST aims to develop a new drug-discovery support system that will integrate a single-cell mass spectrometry method developed by the RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center’s Laboratory for Single Cell Mass Spectrometry with high-speed imaging and high-precision positioning technologies that Yokogawa has developed for its confocal scanner units and drug-discovery support devices.

For the development of new drugs, multiple cells are typically ground to analyse intracellular metabolism and thereby verify the efficacy and side effects of a particular candidate drug. A drawback of this technique is that molecular changes in individual cells cannot be analysed in sufficient detail. In addition, large numbers of animal and human cells are required.

With this new system, JST aims to clarify how molecules of a candidate drug reach a specific cell and the changes that take place there. Single-cell mass spectrometry is a technique for the analysis of target molecules that have been suctioned out from individual cells as they are being observed under a microscope. The system that is to be developed will speed up this process by automating the identification of cells and molecules where unusual changes have taken place, and automatically capturing target molecules. In addition to speeding up analysis, this will reduce costs.

Yokogawa will work with RIKEN to develop a system that will accelerate the development of new drugs by enabling the quick and precise analysis of the effect that candidate drugs have on intracellular metabolism.

Single-cell mass spectrometry is a method whereby cell molecules are suctioned out using a microfine glass tube (nanospray chip), ionised with an ionising organic solvent, and analysed (to identify type and amount) using a mass spectrometer. Performed under a microscope, this method is fast and the analysis results are highly precise. While a large sample is needed with conventional methods, this analysis method requires just one cell, and it can also quantify intermediate metabolites and trace metabolic pathways to final metabolites.

About Yokogawa’s confocal scanner unit and drug-discovery support system

The confocal scanner is a scanning unit that focuses laser beams on individual points on a plane to acquire tomographic images of live cells at selected depths, without the need for slicing the sample. Thanks to its clear images and industry-leading imaging speed, Yokogawa’s confocal scanner is widely used in research institutions around the world. The Yokogawa drug-discovery support system that incorporates this scanner unit is an automated testing tool that looks at cell functions, administers drug candidate compounds to cells, takes pictures of induced intracellular changes, and analyses reactions. This system also leads the industry in screening speed and resolution.

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