Ultra Content Screening for Clinical Diagnostics and Deep Phenotyping

When asked to describe their research, Dr. Oliver Bannach and Dr. Thomas Rockel like to show a picture: it portrays London’s famous Tower Bridge with its two iconic towers, but the left half of the picture is rendered as an outline of the bridge, reduced to three colours, while the right half of the picture is a full colour photo in sharp detail. “You can imagine the difference between previous imaging methods and our new technology to be like this,” the two scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich explain. “We want to increase the informative value of images by a long way.”

Blue and pink dots on black background showing nuclei

The project aims to develop technology that can automate the screening of single cells from the human body. Based on the existing method called ultra content screening technology (UCS), a new system will now be developed that can fully automate the examination of a blood sample. This involves staining individual components of the cells with fluorescent antibodies and photographing them under a special microscope.

Depiction of processing data

This is then repeated for another component of the cell, and then another – gradually creating a detailed view inside the cell, layer by layer. They will first be doing this for 30 selected biomarkers in tumour cells and bone marrow cells from breast cancer and leukaemia patients. After that, the cells of those patients will be examined for any additional striking commonalities.

Pipetting robots and other high-end tools will perform the analyses automatically. The imaging and data analysis software required for interpreting the resulting data will also have to be developed in the project.