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Shaping the Future of Organoid Research

Shaping the Future of Organoid Research content piece image
Mammary Organoids. Credit: Geoffrey Wahl, Christopher Dravis. National Cancer Institute/Salk Institute
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Molecular Devices, a provider of innovative life science technology, recently unveiled a brand new, first-of-its-kind Organoid Innovation Center. Situated at the company’s global headquarters in Silicon Valley, the Center expands beyond imaging to demonstrate an end-to-end solution that addresses the challenges of working with complex 3D biological models.

To learn more about the Center and its origins, Technology Networks spoke with Molecular Devices’ president, Susan Murphy. In this interview, Susan also discusses some of the key technologies housed at the Center and highlights the advantages of automating organoid culturing and screening workflows.

Anna MacDonald (AM): What was the motivation behind the creation of the Organoid Innovation Center?

Susan Murphy (SM):
Our customers’ innovation drives our innovation. The Center was inspired in part by our work with Cincinnati Children's Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM). CuSTOM was looking for a collaborator to help them create an automated workflow for 3D cell culturing and organoid screening in support of their mission to revolutionize personalized medicine and improve patient care. Due to our unique expertise in high-content 3D imaging and automation in drug discovery, we were able to do more for CuSTOM than just outfit their lab with equipment. Instead, our in-house scientists and engineers consulted with CuSTOM throughout the process, helping create a working lab where they could develop organoids and conduct 3D research.

We’ve had many incredibly successful collaborations since CuSTOM and we wanted a way to share this cutting-edge technology globally. The Organoid Innovation Center allows us to demonstrate the 3D organoid development and screening experience with scientists anywhere in the world. Customers wanting to move into 3D models – which are more physically relative to in vitro models – also want expertise on how to transition from 2D to 3D drug discovery screening. Our new Center allows them to see and test this workflow and its experiments in real time, carried out on a number of technologies that address everything from cell culture, treatment and incubation capabilities, to imaging, analysis, data processing and informatics.

AM: Can you discuss some of the challenges of working with complex 3D biological models?

Organoids are essentially mini 3D tissues that mimic the cellular structure of an organ or tissue. This makes them really useful for disease modeling, toxicology and assessing treatment effects for drug discovery. While 3D models reveal more than their 2D counterparts, researchers express several pain points when working with them. First, it can be challenging to grow 3D organoids and cell cultures, especially when grown manually. Once grown, it is difficult to image them reliably with repeatable results.

AM: How does the Organoid Innovation Center address these challenges?

The Organoid Innovation Center features an end-to-end solution that addresses challenges with every step in the sample prep-to-report pipeline. Mitigated hurdles include 3D cell culturing, monitoring and quality checks, all the way to passaging, differentiation and organoid screening.

Our primary goal is to help scientists progress their research. The Center demonstrates the tools needed to enable a straightforward, consistent and stable 3D cell culturing process as part of the solution. The future of cancer research and finding a cure is through 3D organoids and stem cells, so Molecular Devices is committed to making the technology and know-how more accessible, ultimately leading to lives saved through faster cures, better medicine and better therapeutics.

What's most unique about the Organoid Innovation Center?

Definitely its’ intelligent decision-making capabilities. With intuitive scheduling software that controls the recently released ImageXpress® Confocal HT.ai High-Content Imaging System with intelligent IN Carta Image Analysis Software, we’re able to mimic daily lab manager workflow and decision making tasks. The system will image a plate, analyze the results and then based on those findings, determine where the plate goes next within the workflow. In addition, the AI/deep learning software analyzes images to help with feature extraction and pattern recognition of a functional organoid screening assay. This, too, mimics an expert scientist’s decision making by determining multiple features in a cell or well and interconnecting those features, concluding which drug is the most potent and why. This technology reduces the possibility of human error or wasted resources and frees up researcher time for other higher impact actions while on the road to discovery. 

Each instrument can be integrated into the workflow or taken out while still having a fully functional system. This modular design ensures maximum customization and flexibility so customers can ensure they have a workflow that best suits their day-to-day needs. One of the many benefits of having a fully integrated solution with hardware and software designed to work together is having reproducible results, which is essential in research.

AM: What are the advantages of automating organoid culturing and screening workflows?

Organoid development and screening can be a very labor-intensive process when done manually. Our customers want to be able to automate, monitor and track their 3D research quickly and easily, ultimately leading to more answers, faster.

The advantages of automating workflows with the best technology and 3D expertise are immense. First, it can help maximize time. So, while the system is conducting media exchange for culture maintenance, adding compounds for drug screening, or imaging and analyzing organoid development throughout the process, scientists are free to perform other critical tasks.

Second, automation can help scale research. In drug discovery, our customers want to test as many different compounds on as many different biological samples to fully understand what the organoids respond to and how they respond. Allowing scientists to start a robust, time-and-data-intensive workflow and then walk away as the experiment essentially runs itself, enables way more experimentation in less time, with better results than if performed by hand or done in 2D.

Third, relying on standard, proven, and automated protocols reduces the possibility of human bias or error in experimentation. 

AM: How will the Center encourage collaboration?  

We’re passionate about collaborating with our customers and supporting their research. This is
core to who we are as a company and drives innovation at Molecular Devices.

internal team of scientists are dedicated to demonstrating the Center’s functionality, creating workflows that meet our customers’ current and future research needs, and helping troubleshoot challenges. Having the ability to bring customers, researchers, or suppliers into the facility – either physically at our headquarters or virtually through a sophisticated remote viewing setup – to experience, test and see the integrated, automated workflow in action, will enable even greater collaboration regardless of where they are in the world.

What applications do you envision the Center will benefit most?

The applications and methods the Center will benefit are quite broad since the solution is customizable to meet unique research needs and designed to automate every step of an organoid workflow. From disease research to drug discovery to personalized medicine – the Center is equipped to handle the development and screening.

The Organoid Innovation Center is meant to inspire our customers and support their current and future needs. There are many ways to approach 3D biology and available technologies are just as plentiful, which can be confusing for scientists. Our customers often ask, “Where do we start, and then where do we go?” The Center is designed to give customers that direction and help them envision the possibilities with automated 3D research, while empowering them to take that next step. 

Susan Murphy was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Science Writer for Technology Networks.

About Susan Murphy:

Molecular Devices President Susan Murphy has over 25 years of experience in life science, drug discovery, biologics, and automation markets, coupled with a technical scientific background in molecular biology and physiology. She joined the company in 2002 as an applications scientist supporting customers in their research and progressed through a series of global commercial sales and marketing leadership roles. In June 2019, Susan was appointed President. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/susanwmurphy.