Ikonisys’s Automated Cell Assay System Could Open the Door to New Diagnostic Tests

Lots of the people I know who went into science and technology journalism did so after spending a year or two working in a lab. Personally, I never experienced what I hear is the tedium of running gels or refilling test tubes. But imagine you’re a lab tech doing medical diagnostics, having to sit in the dark and scan a sample of 30,000 cells to find the ones that have a strange shape or size, then focusing on those for a closer look to figure out if there are abnormalities that identify a cancer cell or a possible birth defect. Each such test could take an hour or more while possibly giving you eye strain.

“That obviously burns out lab techs,” says Paul White, president and chief financial officer of Ikonisys, of New Haven, CT. And if a sample of 30,000 cells is that bad, imagine looking for cells so rare that only one shows up per million. “To do a rare-cell-based test you might sit in front of a microscope for days,” says White. That’s if you did such a test at all, which for the most part people don’t.

Ikonisys has come up with a solution to the problem, an automated microscope system that runs its own tests and alerts diagnosticians to possible cell anomalies. The system consists of three parts: a robotic handling apparatus, the reagents needed to run the tests, and image processing software to identify problematic proteins or chromosomes.

To use the Ikoniscope microscope system, our lab tech merely needs to load slides with the cell samples, introduce the reagent that will make abnormal cells fluoresce, place up to 25 slides into a cassette, slide the cassette into the machine, push a button, and walk away (that last part is optional). The robotic handling system will remove each slide one by one and scan the cells to see which ones are abnormal. When the lab tech returns, the machine tells him which cells looked suspicious, and he can then spend a couple minutes checking only those.

Not only does the system automate the running of existing tests, it makes those rare-cell tests that no one ever did simply because they would be too time-consuming much more feasible.

Petros Tsipouras, one of three founders of Ikonisys and now its chairman and CEO, says the system … Next Page »

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