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Fast instruments to discover new drugs, fast!

CSIRO : 01 August, 2000  (New Product)
A new generation of instruments for rapidly screening potential pharmaceutical drugs is the goal of a new research partnership. CSIRO and Axon Instruments Inc. have announced that they will collaborate in the development of these high speed, high volume instruments.
Axon develops instrumentation and software for rapid, accurate protein and DNA analysis.

They are currently developing CellPix, a system for rapidly screening pharmaceutical drugs.

Dr Andy Blatz, Axon's Director of Cell Based Screening Technology, says that researchers looking for new drugs must screen them for their effects on human and animal cells.

'The CellPix system works by capturing and analysing images of cells using chemical fluorescence to mark cellular features. Under different conditions, different parts of the cell become visible so we can compare the effects of many potential drugs on many features,' says Dr Blatz.

'Automatically processing these images is a highly specialised and computationally intensive activity which requires the sophisticated image analysis techniques that CSIRO can offer.'

Dr Mervyn Thomas of CSIRO says that the aim is to make the laborious process of identifying and screening new pharmaceuticals more efficient.

'CSIRO can contribute to this work in several ways,' he says. 'Image analysis is all about extracting meaningful data from images. CSIRO's Image Analysis group is experienced in working with medical and biological information and this project will expand our skills into a challenging new area.'

'The image analysis specifications of the CellPix system are very demanding. We will be developing techniques to selectively identify various cellular components, nucleus, cytoplasm, mitochondria etc, and then to classify and interpret their characteristics,' says Dr Thomas.

The CellPix system will be used for drug discovery based on measurements of a range of cellular characteristics including cell shape, neurite outgrowth, changes in adhesion and other morphological changes.

CellPix will assist the drug discovery industry to develop new tests to be applied to potential drugs and to apply them as a higher-throughput screening system.

CSIRO and Axon are also currently collaborating on a project in bioinformatics, which is the application of advanced mathematical and statistical methods to biological information.

Axon's Javelin is an advanced database system for managing and interpreting data from the DNA microarrays that are widely used in gene mapping work.

Dr Trent Basarsky, Axon's Manager of Bioinformatics, says, 'Axon's high volume, high speed analytical instruments, such as the GenePix 4000 microarray scanner, generate massive amounts of data.'

'Javelin not only manages such data, it provides insightful and intuitive analysis tools. The new field of bioinformatics is about converting raw data into significant results and Javelin is well suited to this task,' says Dr Basarsky.

Dr Thomas says that CSIRO's top class capabilities in statistics, data management, software architectures and image analysis are likely to be crucial components in building a strong Australian presence in bioinformatics.

'The collaboration with Axon links us to world class innovation in analytical instruments and allows us to deploy our novel informatics techniques in the market-leading product for analysis of DNA microarrays,' he says.

Axon Instruments, Inc., ( located in Foster City, California, and founded in 1984, produces a broad spectrum of instrumentation and software for genomics and high throughput screening. Axon is widely recognised as the world's pre-eminent manufacturer of hardware and software products for the cellular neurosciences research community. Axon's goal is to produce a range of superior yet affordable instrument and software systems for drug discovery and diagnostics, aimed at the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology companies and academic researchers. Axon Instruments was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in March 2000.
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