A technique called Cell Painting could speed drug discovery

Now, some are adopting a new paradigm: Measure everything, ask questions later. This motto fuels a lab at Harvard’s Broad Institute and MIT, where researchers have developed a method for creating a treasure trove of information about the inner workings of cells that they can sift through. many years to come. This method, called Cell Painting, has impressed scientists at several pharmaceutical companies—so much so that they have formed a consortium and pooled resources, using the method to created a huge dataset that they started releasing to the public in November. The JUMP–Cell Painting ConsortiumAs the name suggests, the database is expected to accelerate drug discovery by helping researchers identify promising compounds and better understand their effects and types of side effects. that they may have before these molecules are tested in animals or humans.

Cell Painting uses up to six fluorescent dyes to light up key cell components, such as the nucleus and mitochondria. The microscope takes pictures of various stains, and the software measures morphological features such as size, shape, intensity, and texture, creating a profile based on the image of the sample. “This is just the simplest imaging test you can administer,” said computer biologist Anne Carpenter, who developed the method and co-led the Broad Institute’s lab with Shantanu Singh. . “Our mission is to choose the cheapest, easiest dye.”

In addition to ease of use, the power of Draw on Cells lies in the huge volume of data that comes from a single experiment. The newly released database contains images of cells responding to more than 140,000 perturbations—be it drug treatment or some other modification that increases or decreases gene activity. Using this data set, Carpenter and some of her colleagues found dozens of compounds that seem to affect the same structures affected by a key gene involved in fast-growing muscle cancer. Instead of putting hundreds of samples through multiple rounds of testing in a wet lab, the Broad researchers came up with a list of drugs a few years ago by entering the name of a gene into a database.

“It’s a completely different approach, with fewer steps and a lot less cost,” said Dr Karin Eisinger, a biologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies this particular type of muscle cancer. Her team has been working with Carpenter’s to validate compounds in wet lab tests, and the two scientists are starting a company to continue developing the most promising candidates. Others go a little further: Recursion Pharmaceuticals, a Salt Lake City company with which Carpenter is a consultant, has launched five clinical trials to test drug candidates identified by a single version. Drawing cells.

At the end of the public release process, members of the consortium are preparing to work with the Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences, based in Washington, DC, to see if they can pair the results. from Cell Painting with other data to predict toxicity of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. .

Esther Landhuis is a health and science journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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