Image is everything

Analysis software for umbilical cord blood focus of new partnership

Kelsey Kaustinen
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CLEVELAND, Ohio—ImageIQ Inc. recently announced that it has partnered with the National Center for Regenerative Medicine (NCRM) at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Cord Blood Center (CCBC) in a new collaboration. ImageIQ will work to tailor customized image acquisition and analysis software, which was originally developed in concert with Cleveland Clinic researchers, to extract performance measurements on cord blood units to determine whether they should be preserved for future use.

The project will be funded by a Biomedical Program grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Program, which will also provide oversight while the NCRM provides administrative support. The project will be awarded approximately $2.5 million for its three-year duration, with a goal of developing and commercializing technologies that, in the words of Tim Kulbago, CEO of ImageIQ, "enable and drive the use of cord blood stem cells for research and clinical applications."

"The goal of the partnership is to establish Ohio as a region of excellence in the field of stem cell and regenerative medicine research and commercialization," says Kulbago. "More specifically, this applies to the ever-expanding popularity and use of cord blood-derived stem cells for clinical applications in cell therapy and regenerative medicine."

According to Kulbago, the Cleveland Clinic and the NCRM will provide stem cell research, clinical expertise and oversight during the collaboration, and the CCBC and its partners and collaborators will provide cord blood units, cell analysis technicians and "beta-site locations for developing, testing and validating the cord blood stem cell imaging and analysis system and software being developed."

For its part, Kulbago says ImageIQ will work with the collaborators to "use contextual design to develop, optimize and validate the imaging and analysis system." The automated quantitative analysis software will be paired with a cell culture imaging technology and will be used first at the CCBC. ImageIQ will develop an imaging and image analysis technology capable of assaying the quality of cord blood units before they are preserved and stored. The project represents a join effort between ImageIQ and the NCRM, Clinical Tissue Engineering Center (CTEC) and CCBC.

This is far from the first time these companies have come together. ImageIQ spent more than 10 years operating as the Biomedical Imaging and Analysis Core within the Cleveland Clinic. The company has worked with Case Western and the NCRM for almost 10 years, and has been working with the CCBC for approximately two years, Kulbago notes.

Umbilical cord blood stem cells have been steadily gaining popularity both in research and potential therapies. Umbilical cords and placenta that are left over after delivery are considered medical waste by hospitals and are usually discarded, notes Dr. Nicholas Greco, processing facility director at CCBC and adjunct assistant professor at NCRM.

However, these materials represent a viable source from which to harvest adult stem cells, he says.
The issue, Kulbago points out, is that cord blood banking is expensive, and the cost of banking a unit, specifically one that might not be usable for transplant, means that "this industry is facing a significant need to improve both the metrics and technology that help assess future clinical utility of a given cord blood unit before it is cryopreserved."

ImageIQ is a leader in cord blood stem cell technology, Kulbago says, a sentiment that Greco echoes.
"They have some unique software that would hopefully allow us to really better count stem cells in the units that we would provide. They have a track record of leading, cutting-edge technology from the Cleveland Clinic," Greco says, adding that the imaging analysis will hopefully allow them to design a better product for their customer base of blood cancers and for regenerative medicine.

"This project highlights the depth and diversity of expertise in stem cell biology and cell therapy that is available in Cleveland, and the rich collaborative environment that we have established in Northeast Ohio," Dr. George Muschler, an orthopedic surgeon, director of CTEC and the principal investigator for Cleveland Clinic, said in a press release.

Kelsey Kaustinen

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