On the cutting edge

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

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In these hot months of summer, we have a cryo-transmission electron microscope to talk about and perhaps put cool thoughts in your mind, as well as isothermal microcalorimetry technology, core imaging software, a wearable cognitive assessment device and an automimmune disease-oriented patient stratification array.

FEI installs Talos Arctica at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
HILLSBORO, Ore.—FEI recently completed the installation of a new Talos Arctica cryo-transmission electron microscope (TEM) at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Japan. Scientists will use the new Talos Arctica for high-resolution, three-dimensional analysis of biological molecules or macro-molecular complexes in their native, fully hydrated state.
Matthias Wolf, assistant professor of the Molecular Cryo-Electron Microscopy Unit at the university, stated, “FEI fulfilled and exceeded all our expectations with Talos Arctica—the tool was installed in record time and produced the first sub-two-ångström images five days after delivery. It truly represents yet another incremental leap in technological progress and integration. Due to its nearly identical intuitive graphical interface to our currently installed Titan Krios TEM, users were able to transition effortlessly from the Titan Krios to the Arctica. The phase plate, in combination with the Falcon direct electron detector installed on the Arctica, performs incredibly and will certainly enable novel frontiers of research.”
The Talos Arctica cryo-TEM incorporates sophisticated automation and electron optical technologies, pioneered on FEI’s flagship Titan Krios TEM, but provides a lower cost of entry for structural biologists who want to increase analytical productivity and reduce time-to-answer.
“The Talos Arctica is FEI’s workhorse system for single particle analysis and cryo-tomography,” said Peter Fruhstorfer, FEI’s vice president and general manager of life sciences. “Its improved ease of use and extensive automation lower the threshold of adoption; for example, scientists with a background in X-ray crystallography can now take advantage of the Talos Arctica’s high-resolution imaging capabilities. The research community is quite excited about the combination of atomic-scale crystallographic structural determination and molecular-scale visualization using electron microscopy, which has recently yielded a number of important discoveries in the burgeoning field of integrated structural biology.”

SymCel unveils international installation of calScreener
KISTA, Sweden—Early June saw SymCel announce that its calScreener technology has secured nine installations across five different countries for a mixture of university institutions and pharmaceutical companies. To date, the geographic spread includes four signings in Sweden, two signings in Switzerland and one each in Holland, South Africa, Germany and Southeast Asia.
The announcement of the geographic roll-out of calScreener follows the recent publication in The Biotechnology Journal of published scientific data indicating that calScreener provides novel insights in the study of tumorous microtissues, bacteria and parasitic worms, while providing continuous real-time biological data.
In Sweden, the technology is being put to use for assay testing in metabolic research, therapeutic antibody development, malaria and fresh water quality, and in Germany, calScreener is being used for toxicology testing. In Holland the tool is being applied in bacterial and biofilm development for the treatment of bacterial infections with antibiotics. Furthermore, the assay technology is being used in the field of tuberculosis in South Africa, tropical parasites in Switzerland and metabolic research in Southeast Asia.
“We are very pleased that the life-science community is taking advantage of our innovative calScreener technology for highly accurate and reliable assay testing,” said Christer Wallin, CEO of SymCel. “In particular, we are pleased by the sheer range of applications in which researchers and scientists are making strong use of our technology.”

Completing inspection tasks efficiently and flexibly
OBERKOCHEN, Germany—Zeiss’ ZEN 2 core imaging software is designed to allow users to achieve the highest-quality results together with established Zeiss hardware, offering an adaptive user interface suited specifically to industrial and research applications. Users can adapt the GUI to their workflows to simplify their work, and the ZEN 2 core also offers a configurable user management, adjusting the software to different users and user levels. The product also offers an interface to many other software platforms as well as hardware accessories.

Wearable cognitive assessment devices a step closer
CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Cambridge Cognition plc, which situated itself as “a world leader in iPad-based cognitive testing,” has expressed its intention to enter the growing wearable technology sector, with the company recently filing a new patent application covering “systems and methods for assessing cognitive function and symptoms of neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions” as well as commencing development activities for near-patient cognitive testing through wearable devices in its healthcare business unit.
The company says that smartwatches represent a “clear opportunity” because of their potential to continuously monitor day-to-day activities alongside biometric parameters such as pulse, movement and voice and compare these measurements to a baseline that is normal for the individual. If the measured parameters deviate from the baseline, Cambridge Cognition believes this event could then be used to trigger quick and specific cognitive tests for the individual to take through mobile and wearable devices. The combination of biobehavioral measures and results from touchscreen cognitive tests would be used to build up a picture of a person’s mental function, identifying the very earliest signs of mental health issues that could indicate a range of neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, stress or anxiety disorders and many others.
Nick Kerton, CEO of Cambridge Cognition, said, “The novel technology around this patent builds nicely on our strategy going forward of providing technologies and products for early identification and intervention to maintain healthy mental wellbeing throughout life. With the increasing impact of dementia and mental illnesses on healthcare budgets, treating impairment early will have a significant positive impact on long-term patient care.”

Zooming in on the microcosmos of autoimmune disease
DORTMUND, Germany—Protagen AG, a company dedicated to the development of diagnostic tools to address some of the most severe autoimmune diseases, in the spring launched NavigAID SLE, a patient stratification array, to support pharma and biotech companies with their systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) drug development efforts.
The Protagen SeroTag process helps to understand complex autoimmune diseases on a molecular basis. Utilizing this “diagnostic magnifying glass,” Protagen has developed NavigAID SLE, which allows the separation and definition of patient subgroups and increases the probability of success in SLE therapy and drug development.
Former Merck Serono executive and Protagen board member Bernd Kirschbaum explains: “With the exception of Benlysta, approval for novel drugs for SLE therapy is far behind other autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. One major hurdle may be the observed patient heterogeneity. In order to develop effective and curative therapies, it is pivotal to define homogeneous disease subgroups in SLE patients, and the new NavigAID SLE does exactly this.”

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