Fraunhofer imaging technique enables faster testing of drug ingredients

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology have combined two microscopy techniques that reduces the time required for testing of new drug ingredients on biological cells by anywhere from 50 to 80%.

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Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology have combined two microscopy techniques that reduces the time required for testing of new drug ingredients on biological cells by anywhere from 50 to 80%.

During the process of developing new medications, biologist and pharmacologists test different active ingredients and chemical compounds, with the goal of finding out how biological cells react to the substances, according to the Fraunhofer Institute. Researchers often use a fluorescence microscope that produces holographic images so the cells can be viewed in 3D. This is done by creating an optical image and digitizing it for recording and analysis on a computer, which then calculates the data needed to display the 3D image of the cells. This method enabled the researchers to examine the cells without touching them and without having to use markers to make the cells visible.

Previous techniques of obtaining precise and reliable answers of how cells react to new chemical substances required a great deal of time and energy for scientists, but combining the technique of digital holographic microscopy with the use of optical tweezers cuts a significant portion of time off the procedure. Optical tweezers are a special instrument that uses the force of a focused laser beam to trap and move microscopic objects, which enables the researchers to pick up selected cells and transfer them to individual wells of a microarray for testing, and keep them trapped there.

"By combining these two instruments, we can save between 50 and 80 percent of the time normally needed for such work, depending on the type of cell and the test method employed. That’s mainly because we don’t have to carry out so many repeated measurements," explains IPT group manager Stephan Stürwald in the Fraunhofer press release.

The system is very easy to use, and the optical tweezers can also be controlled via the touchscreen of a tablet PC. It will also enable the researchers to use the laser in the system to selectively destroy cells that are unsuitable for testing. A system prototype was developed consisting of the two modules, and the researchers were able to carry out initial tests using it.

View the Fraunhofer Institute press release.

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