featuring the Echo acoustic technology
TITLES and AUTHORS
Cancer therapy is increasingly becoming individualized, but there are also big gaps between the molecular knowledge of individual cancers we can generate today and what can be applied in the clinic. In an attempt to bridge this knowledge gap between cancer genetic and molecular profiling and clinically useful information, an individualized systems medicine program has been established at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, and the Helsinki University Hospital. Central to this program is drug sensitivity and resistance testing (DSRT), in which responses of primary cancer cells to a comprehensive clinical oncology and signal transduction drug collection are monitored. The drug sensitivity information is used with molecular profiling to establish hypotheses on individual cancer-selective targeting drug combinations and their predictive biomarkers, which can be explored in the clinic. Here, we describe how acoustic droplet ejection is enabling DSRT in our cancer individualized systems medicine program to (1) generate consistent but configurable assay-ready plates and determine how this affects data quality, (2) flexibly prepare drug combination testing plates, (3) dispense reagents and cells to the assay plates, and (4) perform ultra-miniaturized follow up assays on the cells from DSRT plates.
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress activates three distinct signal transducers on the ER membrane. Inositol-requiring protein 1 (IRE1), the most conserved signal transducer, plays a key role in ER stress-mediated signaling. During ER stress, IRE1 initiates two discrete signaling cascades: the "adaptive" signaling cascade mediated by the XBP1 pathway and the "alarm" signaling cascade mediated by stress-activated protein kinase pathways. Fine-tuning of the balance between the adaptive and alarm signals contributes significantly to cellular fate under ER stress. Thus, we propose that the design of high-throughput screening (HTS) assays to selectively monitor IRE1 mediated-signaling would be desirable for drug discovery. To this end, we report the generation of stable human neural cell lines and development of cell-based HTS luciferase (Luc) reporter gene assays for the identification of pathway-specific chemical modulators of IRE1. We implemented a cell-based Luc assay using a chimeric CHOP-Gal4 transcription factor in 384-well format for monitoring IRE1 kinase-mediated p38MAPK activation and an unfolded response pathway element (URPE)-Luc cell-based assay in 1536-well format for monitoring IRE1's RNase-mediated activation of XBP1. Chemical library screening was successfully conducted with both the CHOP/Gal4-Luc cells and UPRE-Luc engineered cells. The studies demonstrate the feasibility of using these HTS assays for discovery of pathway-selective modulators of IRE1.
The fatty acid synthase (FAS) enzyme in mammalian cells is a large multidomain protein responsible for de novo synthesis of fatty acids. The steps catalyzed by FAS involve the condensation of acetyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA moieties in the presence of NADPH until palmitate is formed. Inhibition of FAS causes an accumulation of intracellular malonyl-CoA, as this metabolite is essentially committed to fatty acid synthesis once formed. Detection of intracellular metabolites for screening can be problematic due to a lack of appropriate tools, but here we describe a targeted liquid chromatography – mass spectroscopy (LCMS) method to directly measure endogenous levels of malonyl-CoA to drive a drug development structure–activity relationship (SAR) screening cascade. Our process involves preparation of samples at 96-well scale, normalization postpermeabilization via use of a whole-well imaging platform, and the LCMS detection methodology. The assay is amenable to multiplexing cellular endpoints, has a typical Z′ of >0.6, and has high reproducibility of EC50 values.
Improvements needed for automated crystallography include crystal detection and crystal harvesting. A technique that uses acoustic droplet ejection to harvest crystals was previously reported. Here a method is described for using the same acoustic instrument to detect protein crystals and to monitor crystal growth. Acoustic pulses were used to monitor the progress of crystallization trials and to detect the presence and location of protein crystals. Crystals were detected, and crystallization was monitored in aqueous solutions and in lipidic cubic phase. Using a commercially available acoustic instrument, crystals measuring ~150 µm or larger were readily detected. Simple laboratory techniques were used to increase the sensitivity to 50 µm by suspending the crystals away from the plastic surface of the crystallization plate. This increased the sensitivity by separating the strong signal generated by the plate bottom that can mask the signal from small protein crystals. It is possible to further boost the acoustic reflection from small crystals by reducing the wavelength of the incident sound pulse, but our current instrumentation does not allow this option. In the future, commercially available sound emitting transducers with a characteristic frequency near 300 MHz should detect and monitor the growth of individual 3 µm crystals.
A method is described for using custom snap-on lids to protect chemicals in microtiter plates from evaporation and contamination. The lids contain apertures (diameter 1.5, 1.0, or 0.5 mm) through which the chemical building blocks can be transferred. The lid with 0.5 mm apertures was tested using a noncontact acoustic liquid handler; the 1.0 and 1.5 mm lids were tested using two tip-based liquid handlers. All of the lids reduced the rate at which solvents evaporated to room air, and greatly reduced the rate of contamination by water and oxygen from room air. In steady-state measurements, the lids reduced the rate of evaporation of methanol, 1-hexene, and water by 33% to 248%. In cycled experiments, the contamination of aqueous solvent with oxygen was reduced below detectability and the rate at which DMSO engorged atmospheric water was reduced by 81%. Our results demonstrate that the lids preserve the integrity of air-sensitive reagents during the time needed for different types of liquid handlers to perform dispensations. Controlling degradation and evaporation of chemical building blocks exposed to the atmosphere is increasingly useful as the reagent volume is reduced by advances in liquid handling technology, such as acoustic droplet ejection.
Liquid handling instruments for life science applications based on droplet formation with focused acoustic energy or acoustic droplet ejection (ADE) were introduced commercially more than a decade ago. While the idea of “moving liquids with sound” was known in the 20th century, the development of precise methods for acoustic dispensing to aliquot life science materials in the laboratory began in earnest in the 21st century with the adaptation of the controlled “drop on demand” acoustic transfer of droplets from high-density microplates for high-throughput screening (HTS) applications. Robust ADE implementations for life science applications achieve excellent accuracy and precision by using acoustics first to sense the liquid characteristics relevant for its transfer, and then to actuate transfer of the liquid with customized application of sound energy to the given well and well fluid in the microplate. This article provides an overview of the physics behind ADE and its central role in both acoustical and rheological aspects of robust implementation of ADE in the life science laboratory and its broad range of ejectable materials.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common form of inherited mental retardation, and it is caused in most of cases by epigenetic silencing of the Fmr1 gene. Today, no specific therapy exists for FXS, and current treatments are only directed to improve behavioral symptoms. Neuronal progenitors derived from FXS patient induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) represent a unique model to study the disease and develop assays for large-scale drug discovery screens since they conserve the Fmr1 gene silenced within the disease context. We have established a high-content imaging assay to run a large-scale phenotypic screen aimed to identify compounds that reactivate the silenced Fmr1 gene. A set of 50,000 compounds was tested, including modulators of several epigenetic targets. We describe an integrated drug discovery model comprising iPSC generation, culture scale-up, and quality control and screening with a very sensitive high-content imaging assay assisted by single-cell image analysis and multiparametric data analysis based on machine learning algorithms. The screening identified several compounds that induced a weak expression of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) and thus sets the basis for further large-scale screens to find candidate drugs or targets tackling the underlying mechanism of FXS with potential for therapeutic intervention.
Quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) is a valuable tool for characterizing the effects of inhibitors on viral replication. The amplification of target viral genes through the use of specifically designed fluorescent probes and primers provides a reliable method for quantifying RNA. Due to reagent costs, use of these assays for compound evaluation is limited. Until recently, the inability to accurately dispense low volumes of qRT-PCR assay reagents precluded the routine use of this PCR assay for compound evaluation in drug discovery. Acoustic dispensing has become an integral part of drug discovery during the past decade; however, acoustic transfer of microliter volumes of aqueous reagents was time consuming. The Labcyte Echo 525 liquid handler was designed to enable rapid aqueous transfers. We compared the accuracy and precision of a qPCR assay using the Labcyte Echo 525 to those of the BioMek FX, a traditional liquid handler, with the goal of reducing the volume and cost of the assay. The data show that the Echo 525 provides higher accuracy and precision compared to the current process using a traditional liquid handler. Comparable data for assay volumes from 500 nL to 12 µL allowed the miniaturization of the assay, resulting in significant cost savings of drug discovery and process streamlining.
Epigenetics continues to emerge as an important target class for drug discovery and cancer research. As programs scale to evaluate many new targets related to epigenetic expression, new tools and techniques are required to enable efficient and reproducible high-throughput epigenetic screening. Assay miniaturization increases screening throughput and reduces operating costs. Echo liquid handlers can transfer compounds, samples, reagents, and beads in submicroliter volumes to high-density assay formats using only acoustic energy—no contact or tips required. This eliminates tip costs and reduces the risk of reagent carryover. In this study, we demonstrate the miniaturization of a methyltransferase assay using Echo liquid handlers and two different assay technologies: AlphaLISA from PerkinElmer and EPIgeneous HTRF from Cisbio.
Mass spectrometry (MS) offers a label-free, direct-detection method, in contrast to fluorescent or colorimetric methodologies. Over recent years, solid-phase extraction–based techniques, such as the Agilent RapidFire system, have emerged that are capable of analyzing samples in <10 s. While dramatically faster than liquid chromatography–coupled MS, an analysis time of 8–10 s is still considered relatively slow for full-diversity high-throughput screening (HTS). Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF) offers an alternative for high-throughput MS detection. However, sample preparation and deposition onto the MALDI target, as well as interference from matrix ions, have been considered limitations for the use of MALDI for screening assays. Here we describe the development and validation of assays for both small-molecule and peptide analytes using MALDI-TOF coupled with nanoliter liquid handling. Using the JMJD2c histone demethylase and acetylcholinesterase as model systems, we have generated robust data in a 1536 format and also increased sample deposition to 6144 samples per target. Using these methods, we demonstrate that this technology can deliver fast sample analysis time with low sample volume, and data comparable to that of current RapidFire assays.