On the cutting edge

A roundup of instrumentation, software and other tools and technology news

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NEWARK, Calif.—Leading off our monthly roundup of tools and tech news this issue is news earlier this year from Advanced Cell Diagnostics (ACD) that RNAscope technology reveals replication of Zika virus in brains of infants with microcephaly and placentas of women with pregnancy losses.
As ACD noted, scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported replication and persistence of Zika virus RNA in placentas of women who had pregnancy losses and in brain tissues of infants with microcephaly. According to the findings published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, 52 patients with clinically suspected Zika virus infection were studied, including eight infants with microcephaly who died. The researchers tested the placental tissue of 22 women who either had a miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy termination or a baby born with microcephaly. They also tested the placental tissue of another 22 women who had babies that appeared healthy.
The study visualized Zika virus RNA transcripts directly in the autopsied brains of infants or placental tissues through in-situ hybridization (ISH) using the RNAscope technology from ACD, a Bio-Techne company. Because this technology allows detection of RNA transcripts while retaining the cellular morphology of the tissues, the researchers were able to localize Zika virus negative sense replicative RNA directly in placental Hofbauer cells and neural cells/neurons of brains.  Based on RT-PCR, ISH and histopathology findings described in the study, CDC researchers concluded that Zika virus replicates in fetal brain and placental tissues and Hofbauer cells may play an important role in the dissemination or transfer of Zika virus to the fetal brain.
“We are honored that RNAscope ISH aided CDC researchers in advancing the understanding of Zika pathogenesis,” said Dr. Yuling Luo, president and founder of ACD. “During this past year, scientists around the world have intensified their research to reduce the impact of the Zika epidemic,” adding that RNAscope had been an essential tool in nine Zika publications during the previous nine months, “so we are proud to provide solutions that can elucidate this complex and devastating virus.”
First-of-its-kind in-vitro ischemia-reperfusion model
CORK, Ireland—Ischemia-reperfusion (IR) injury occurs in the body when blood supply returns to tissues after a period of oxygen and nutrient deprivation. It is an important feature of several diseases including cardiac arrest, stroke and cancer, and is a critical consideration during transplantation, notes Luxcel Biosciences Ltd. While significant advances have been made in understanding IR injury, progress has been impaired by the absence of a method to accurately and reproducibly replicate injury conditions in vitro, and tools have not been available to quantitatively measure real-time cellular oxygenation in the ischemic cells.
To overcome these challenges, the BMG LABTECH CLARIOstar microtiter plate reader, with atmoshpheric control unit and rapid gas ramping function, was combined with Luxcel Biosciences' MitoXpress Intra–Intracellular Oxygen Concentration Assay. This reportedly allows real-time quantitation of cellular oxygenation, and Ncardia's iPSC-derived human Cor.4U cardiomyocyte cells.
According to Luxcel, “This powerful new in-vitro model will enable researchers and drug discovery scientists to better replicate and understand the biology of IR injury facilitating the development of more effective therapeutic interventions.”
Teaching the next generation of scientists
MALVERN, Pa.—In late September came news from Magritek Ltd., a provider of compact NMR and MRI instruments, that its 60 MHz benchtop NMR spectrometer is now being used to teach undergraduate students in the department of Biotechnology and Molecular Life Sciences at Wageningen University about the practical use of NMR as part of the spectroscopic and chromatographic introductory course “Analytical Methods in Organic Chemistry.”
Dr. Teris van Beek, a lecturer at the university, said of the decision: “In the 45 years before the acquisition of the Magritek, we used our research NMR for teaching purposes. However since our move to a new lab and the sharp increase in the number of students, this has become logistically impossible. However we did not wish to lose the hands-on aspect and we like students to measure their own products. Therefore, we had to find an affordable alternative solution, i.e., an instrument with a low-field permanent magnet.”
ERT reduces delivery time for vaccine trials
PHILADELPHIA—In September, ERT, a global data and technology company that minimizes uncertainty and risk in clinical trials, announced a technology platform that reportedly provides fast, regulatory-compliant and cost-effective clinical outcome assessment (COA) data capture during vaccine clinical development. The platform is said to reduce the time needed to develop electronic diary cards by 75 percent, enabling vaccine researchers to benefit from the significant advantages electronic COA (eCOA) delivers without jeopardizing clinical development timelines.
“Vaccine researchers are under extreme pressure to meet critical development timelines, especially when developing seasonal treatments or responding to global pandemics,” said Tim Davis, ERT’s vice president of the company’s Digital Patient operation. “Until now, the time required for electronic diary card development was prohibitive, leaving vaccine developers to rely on the traditional paper method that’s plagued with patient compliance and data quality problems and requires significant, time-intensive manual data entry and review before regulatory submission.”
ERT’s platform overcomes these challenges by prevalidating the set of standard diary card questions commonly used in vaccine trials and readying them for use across different patient groups and in multiple languages. ERT’s eCOA solution designers work with vaccine developers to incorporate their specific standards into the vaccines platform and to ensure the study design meets each trial’s specific requirements.
Global genomics and clinical data analytics resource
BASEL, Switzerland & HELSINKI, Finland—BC Platforms, which works in the area of genomic data management and analysis solutions, recently launched BC|RQUEST, a resource that enables integrated analytics of genomic and clinical data. BC|RQUEST facilitates browsing and analytics of genomic and clinical data that has been aggregated across biobanks and streamlines collaboration between biobanks and the pharmaceutical industry. Microsoft will provide the cloud infrastructure for indexing and accessing the information globally and securely through the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
BC|RQUEST will be used by members of the Open Biobank Research Enhancement Alliance (OBREA), formed by BC Platforms to connect biobanks, technology enablers, researchers and industry. Biobanks joining at this initial phase are geographically diverse, from Estonia, Mexico, Finland, Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom, representing more than two million people.
By participating in a global research network, biobanks can increase the visibility and utility of their samples and data, supporting their sustainability. Researchers, in turn, can leverage the collective assets and diversity of global biobanks to discover potential breakthroughs. Patient privacy is protected since individual level patient data is not exposed.
Tero Silvola, CEO of BC Platforms, commented; “Genomic data is notoriously difficult to collect, harmonize and integrate with phenotypic data on a global scale. Through this initiative we make it possible for researchers to immediately access the combined data assets of a global network of biobanks, saving them the time and expense involved in locating suitable samples and harmonizing multiple sources of data.  In addition, through participation in the network, biobanks can support their operations and enhancements as well as experience a best practice approach to data management and sharing.”

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