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Thorlabs makes cytometry acquisition

09 Oct 2013

Laser scanning technique developed by CompuCyte has advantages over conventional liquid-phase cytometry.

Thorlabs, best known for its wide range of optical and optomechanical products, is moving up the photonics value chain with the acquisition of cytometry specialist CompuCyte.

Massachusetts-based CompuCyte has been selling its laser scanning cytometry (LSC) equipment for cell and tissue analysis since 1996. The technology, which works with solid-phase samples, is complementary to the more traditional liquid-phase flow cytometry methods.

The CompuCyte technology is said to combine the advantages of digital microscopy, image processing and cytometry, yielding an “unprecedented depth of high-content analysis of adherent cells and tissue specimens”.

Thorlabs' latest move to target the biomedical sector follows its acquisition of IRphotonics' optical fiber business earlier this year, and the purchase of quantum cascade laser specialist Maxion in late 2012.

Solid-phase cytometry
CompuCyte’s 'iGeneration' instruments incorporate a proprietary non-confocal laser scanning imaging technology, said to offer advantages including truly quantitative analysis, compatibility with multiple light sources and detectors, flexible dye combinations, and variable-resolution scanning to strike a balance between throughput and image resolution.

Because it is designed for use with solid-phase samples, LSC is compatible with a variety of adherent cellular and tissue specimen analysis formats, including microscope slides, micro-liter plates, chamber slides, or proprietary carriers.

LSC has been used, among many other applications in world-leading research laboratories, to measure the carcinogenic impact of cigarette smoke on human cells. Other typical uses include looking at the reaction of cells to drug treatments, and observing changes in the morphology of a cell nucleus.

Jeff Brooker, the general manager of Thorlabs’ imaging division, commented: “Having spent most of my career in the high content imaging field, I am personally excited to return to the cytometry market with such a strong foundation and a seasoned team.”

Quantitative imaging
Following a company restructure in 2002 that included a $4 million round of financing, CompuCyte subsequently launched its 'iCyte' range of products, based on a more versatile four-laser illumination system, in late 2009.

Shortly afterwards the firm signed a five-year global distribution deal with the biomedical equipment giant Beckman Coulter, though Thorlabs told optics.org that this agreement was terminated before it began discussing any potential acquisition with CompuCyte.

In terms of photonics hardware, LSC is based largely on laser excitation of samples and the detection of subsequent fluorescence signals, as well as scattered and transmitted light.

A single laser beam, or a combination of multiple wavelengths from different sources, is steered by a scanning mirror towards the specimen. Fluorescence is collected by an objective lens and steered to the scanning mirror, before passing through a series of dichroic mirrors and optical interference filters to as many as four photodetectors tuned to a specific wavelength range.

Compared with flow cytometry, which monitors cells in a stream of liquid, the big advantage of LSC is that it is compatible with samples mounted on a solid substrate. That means that LSC can be used to monitor phenomena like enzyme kinetics - impossible with flow cytometry.

And whereas confocal microscopy provides excellent spatial resolution and is ideal for detailed analysis of small numbers of cells, LSC yields a depth-of-field in the region of 25 µm and so can be used to collect a fluorescence signal from an entire cell depth at each scanning location.

"LSC technology transforms the microscope from a qualitative to a quantitative tool for cell biology," is how CompuCyte sums up the LSC advantage.

'Exceptional partner'
Elena Holden, who had been CompuCyte’s president and CEO prior to the Thorlabs deal, said: “CompuCyte has created a family of imaging instruments to serve an unsurpassed variety of applications and markets. We are delighted to have found an exceptional partner in Thorlabs. United by a complete dedication to the needs of our customers, we look forward to continuing development of new imaging cytometry products.”

Following the transaction, CompuCyte personnel will now join Thorlabs’ sales, technical support and product development organization in Sterling, Virginia. Holden is set to take on the role of "Chief Scientific Strategic Marketing of Life Sciences", Thorlabs said.

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