When properly understood, knowledge of the interaction and communication of cells with each other and their environment can be applied to the diagnosis and treatment of disease. For example, a recent study1 has shown that expression of CD11b on the surface of neutrophils increases during infection. This observation is the basis for a rapid screening test for dangerous early-onset neonatal infections that can provide confirmation of an infection in a few hours, as opposed to one or two days. Because less than 6 percent of the 300,000 newborns in the United States treated annually for suspected infections actually have an infection, such a test could spare thousands of children from needless treatments and save millions of dollars.
The OnCyte Diagnostic System, from CompuCyte Corp., of Cambridge, Mass., provides the technology for such a rapid test. This system employs a laser-based cellular analyzer to establish a new class of cell-based assays, combining CompuCyte's patented Laser Scanning Cytometry technology, solid-phase cell separation techniques, and liquid handling robotics. The OnCyte system uses disposable sample cartridges containing all of the reagents and reaction wells necessary for processing whole blood specimens through a variety of fluorescent, antibody-based assays. In addition, the cartridges contain all of the waste generated in the process, including pipette tips.
Other tests in development include an early test for heart attacks and new diagnostics for cardiovascular disease. The Monocyte-Platelet Complex (MPC) test measures the readiness of platelets to participate in clotting, a contributing factor in up to 90 percent of all heart attacks and strokes. A panel of leukocyte and platelet receptor expression assays also is being developed. "The molecular mechanisms regulating the recruitment of leukocytes by activated platelets and/or endothelial cells represent new targets for antithrombotic and antiinflammatory pharmacology in many disease categories," says Elena Holden, director of market development and clinical diagnostics for CompuCyte. Consequently, research applications for the OnCyte system are plentiful, particularly during drug development and clinical trials. For example, the system streamlines the selection of patient populations by rapidly screening those individuals likely to respond to a specific treatment, determining criteria for dosage requirements, and monitoring a drug's effectiveness.
--Michael Brush (MichaelDBrush@cs.com)
1. E. Weirich et al., "Neutrophil CD11b expression as a diagnostic marker for early-onset neonatal infection," Journal of Pediatrics, 132[3 Pt 1]:445-51, 1998.
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