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Ectica Technologies at Crick Technology Day 2023 and Phenotypic Drug Discovery

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Ectica Technologies and SCREEN Holdings recently exhibited at the Crick Technology Day 2023

Ectica Technologies recently exhibited at the Crick Technology Day 2023, held on March 21st in London, UK. The event provided an opportunity for technology suppliers to showcase their innovations to the biomedical research center's staff. The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical research center located in London, UK. It was opened as a partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Wellcome, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King’s College London. The Crick conducts research in a wide range of areas, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, infectious diseases, and developmental biology. The institute houses over 2000 scientists and support staff, and is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for research. Among its science technology platforms, the Crick has a High Throughput Screening facility, a Cell Services facility with a central repository of cell lines and antibodies and related quality controls functions, and many others. Every year, technology suppliers are invited to exhibit and present their innovations to the Crick staff in the beautiful hall of the institute.


Our exhibit at the Crick Technology Day was a joint effort with our partner SCREEN Holdings, highlighting our interest in label-free imaging of 3D organotypic cell cultures for phenotypic cell-based assays in bioresearch and drug discovery.


Ectica Technologies at Crick Technology Day 2023 and Phenotypic Drug Discovery

What is phenotypic drug discovery?

Phenotypic drug discovery is a different approach to drug development than target-directed drug discovery. Phenotypic drug discovery involves screening compounds for their ability to alter specific behaviors or characteristics of cells or organisms. This is complementary to target-directed drug discovery, which aims to identify compounds that interact with specific molecular pathways or proteins involved in disease progression.


Translatability is a key concept in both drug discovery processes. In vitro screening models must accurately predict the situation in the patient, otherwise the drug development process may be misleading and result in late-stage drug failures.


At Ectica Technologies, we are working to develop more translatable phenotypic screening systems. We create advanced 3D co-culture systems using human primary cells, preferably from patients, and base our readouts on multicellular behaviors or tissue modifications observed in the human diseased organism. For example, we study the collective migration of cancer cells interacting with surrounding stromal cells in the 3D environment, or the excessive production of extracellular matrix resulting in a denser stroma.


Co-cultures can increase the predictive power of cellular assays in drug discovery due to their ability to better mimic the complex microenvironment and interactions between different cell types observed in vivo. By recreating this environment, co-cultures can provide a more realistic representation of cellular behavior and response to drug treatments. This can improve the translatability of in vitro screening models and reduce the risk of late-stage drug failures. Additionally, co-cultures can help identify new targets and pathways involved in disease progression, leading to the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches.


We primarily use microscopy-based approaches to analyze our 3D cell cultures. Our partner company, SCREEN Holdings, has developed unique solutions for the label-free analysis of organotypic 3D cultures. We previously highlighted the excellent compatibility of SCREEN’s Cell3imager Estier with our 3DProSeed hydrogel technology (link). The Cell3imager Estier is a near-infrared optical coherence tomography (OCT) system for well-plates that can acquire the tomogram of live cells or organisms non-invasively. It can resolve 3D structures of organoids and co-cultures in a unique, completely label-free way. A video of a 3D tomographic reconstruction of a human colon epithelial organoid growing in a matric of enteroglial cells is published here on our YouTube channel. This system is not designed for high-throughput screening because of the relatively long acquisition time required for large tissue constructs.


However, SCREEN has recently launched the Cell3imager NX, which features a patented imaging modality for high-content analysis of 3D cultures. The system acquires various brightfield (or phase contrast) images, varying the focus in the Z direction, and combines them into a single 2D projection with optimized feature representation to eliminate out-of-focus blurred pixels. This is a fundamental step to enable bright-field segmentation in images acquired in 3D samples like ours. In addition, the NX has high-definition stitching capability and the possibility for the user to teach deep learning algorithms from an interface built into the acquisition software.


About the 3DProSeed StromaLine


Ectica Technologies has developed a collection of high-content screening (HCS) compatible primary human stromal models. These stromal cells are cultured in 3D synthetic, animal-free pre-cast hydrogels in 96-well imaging plates (3DProSeed StromaLine collection). As a result, the models are guaranteed to develop according to specifications using the supplied materials and recommended methods. Stromal cells currently available include primary human CAFs – standard or expanded – from melanoma, the lungs, pancreas and colon. Basic patient annotations are pre-tested to form αSMA-positive fibroblastic networks in this innovative 3D hydrogel system. Importantly, rigidity levels are fine-tuned and optimal for stromal cell growth.


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