For researchers who are assessing new strategies to battle cancer, unlocking the power of stem cells or pioneering formulas for new drugs, it takes extreme patience to peer into a microscope every day and observe the smallest units of life that make up all of us. Even more demanding is working with a multitude of cells at once and, when testing their reactions to experiments, sorting out which is which.
Microcell arrays provide a way for people in these professions to track cells over several days’ time. One thing to observe about this SMART 100 innovation — developed by Melbourne startup Microsurfaces in conjunction with Swinburne University of Technology — is that it replaces statistical probability with certainty. That statement, like a cell itself, seems a slight thing, yet has powerful consequences.
The arrays function by creating a series of paddocks that limit the bounds within which cells can move about — “like a farm paddock confines how far animals can roam,” as Daniel Day, founder of Microsurfaces, puts it. That way, researchers can efficiently home in with live cell imaging for long-term testing, instead of falling back on probability and assumptions to determine the outcome.
Besides performing chemical and environmental tests on a target cell and tracking the reactions over time (as the cell divides, mutates, keels over or simply says, “meh”), experimenters can also follow generational reactions over time as series of newer cells come into being.
Day sees his innovation as a much-needed upgrade over cell culture dishes and wares that haven’t evolved much of late. As the research technology known as high-content screening calls for more platforms (Day estimates an annual rise in demand of 22%), academic researchers, industrial developers and manufacturers will benefit from arrays technology. If biological research tools can be measured in evolutionary terms, microcell arrays may be among the fittest.