Lifespan's robotic microscope uses Artificial Intelligence for automated pathology image screening and processing

Seattle 13 June 2002A new robotic microscope system, capable of capturing and analysing many thousands of images per day, is dramatically accelerating analysis of gene and protein expression at the cellular level, according to scientists at LifeSpan BioSciences. The company, which invented the new automated image capture and analysis system, recently deployed the first of its robotic microscopes in its molecular pathology and tissue proteomics efforts. It plans to deploy three additional systems in the coming months.

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"This technology brings the 100-year-old art of pathology into the 21st century", stated Joseph Brown, Ph.D., LifeSpan's president and chief executive officer. "Our system frees pathologists from the need to perform routine screening, allowing them to focus on high-value analysis and interpretation." He noted that a single robotic system can automatically collect and analyse 35.000 images per day. LifeSpan is building four of these systems, so the storage and archiving of terabytes of data pose interesting challenges for LifeSpan's information systems developers.

LifeSpan is using its robotic microscope systems to generate a comprehensive atlas of expression of each of the more than 30.000 human genes in normal and diseased human tissues. By using its bank of 2 million normal and diseased human tissue specimens along with specific nucleic acid probes and antibodies, LifeSpan measures the expression of mRNA and protein at the cellular level.

This approach allows researchers to narrow down the hundreds of potential gene targets identified by using high-throughput expression profiling methods such as gene chips, to a few validated candidate drug target genes. LifeSpan believes its molecular pathology approach represents a significant advance in genomics and proteomics research.

"Our robotic microscope and image processing capabilities are not limited to molecular pathology and tissue proteomics applications", stated Dr. Brown. "We believe this technology will find a wide range of applications outside drug discovery, and we are actively seeking strategic partners to help us realise its full potential."

The automated system uses robotic microscopes with artificial intelligence software to identify structures and cell types within tissues. By using tagged antibodies that bind specifically to individual proteins, the system can determine which cells express a particular protein.

"The analogy is finding a tank hidden in a forest", explained Dr. Glenna Burmer, chief scientific officer of LifeSpan. "By using imaging software alone, you might recognise the forest, but not the tank. If the tank is marked with brilliant red colouring, it is easily recognisable by its colour. The tagged antibody paints the protein red, and you can detect its colour as well as identify it as being within a particular cell type because of its relationship to the surrounding structures."

"We are developing artificial intelligence algorithms and antibody markers which can be used broadly to identify proteins in tissue proteomics, diagnostic pathology, and medical imaging", Dr. Burmer continued.

LifeSpan Biosciences is a privately held genomics company founded in 1995 that utilises proprietary molecular pathology and bioinformatics technology to profile and localise gene expression in normal and diseased human tissues for more than 50 pharmaceutical company customers in Europe, Asia, and North America.


Leslie Versweyveld

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