A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

A team of scientists is expanding efforts to develop a detailed picture of immune system function with a new $51 million, five-year contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The research builds on a project originally funded by NIAID in 2003 and will continue to be led by Richard Ulevitch, PhD, of The Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, California).

The contract also will involve scientists from the Institute for Systems Biology (Seattle), Stanford University (Palo Alto, California) and the Australian National University, Canberra.

“The collaborators on this project have previously made significant contributions to our understanding of innate immunity, the body’s first line of defense against infection,” says NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD. “They are well-positioned to generate knowledge that will advance the development of new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines for infectious diseases that occur naturally or are deliberately introduced into a population.”

According to Ulevitch, the researchers will use a systems biology approach to build a comprehensive model of the immune system’s response to several disease-causing agents. Systems biology melds established life sciences with informatics, computer modeling and new techniques of gene and protein analysis to generate a wide-angle view of entire biological systems. To date, the team has focused on developing an encyclopedic account of innate immunity. Now, the project’s scope will broaden to encompass components of adaptive immunity, which includes antibodies and a diverse class of immune system cells called T cells.

Ulevitch and his collaborators will create mutant mice and then screen them to find defects in the animals’ innate and adaptive immune reactions to viruses, including influenza, mousepox and mouse cytomegalovirus, and to several bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria. Next, the group will conduct a systems-level analysis of the multiple immune system signaling pathways triggered by infection.

In other contract news:

• Sysmex America (Mundelein, Illinois) said that the company has been awarded a hematology contract extension by group purchasing organization MedAssets Supply Chain Systems (Atlanta).The extension agreement provides MedAssets’ customers access to Sysmex hematology analyzers, reagents, consumables and services that became effective Oct. 1. Training and technical support for the organization’s members will be provided through the company’s U.S. headquarters in Mundelein. This contract extends the original contract between the companies that originated in April 2004.

Sysmex hematology products included in the MedAssets contract agreement range from the pocH-100i and the KX-21N for small laboratories to the fully automated XE-Alpha N and HST-N Integrated Hematology Systems with automated slide preparation capabilities. Also included are the Sysmex XE-Series Automated Hematology Analyzers, the Sysmex XT-Series Automated Hematology Analyzers and the Sysmex XS-Series Automated Hematology Analyzers, all of which use the same fluorescent flow technology platform, user interface, and reagents and controls, leading to improved laboratory standardization.

In grant news:

• ZumaTek (Durham, North Carolina), a breast imaging company, reported it received a Small Business Innovative Research Phase 1 grant award from the National Cancer Institute of the NIH to continue R&D of dedicated imaging technologies for enhanced 3-D lesion detection.

The awarded project for $100,000 — which will focus on solving challenges related to imaging the full breast, chest wall, and axillae — was funded for a 12-month period and is intended to lead to additional funding from an SBIR Phase II award to take the technology closer to commercialization.

“The SBIR Phase I grant money will allow us to focus on the pioneering work that was started at Duke University [Durham],” said Dr. Randolph McKinley, CEO of ZumaTek and the grant’s principal investigator. “ZumaTek was formed to commercialize the successful work on these next generation, patient-friendly and information rich scanners so we can get the technology in the hands of the medical community and greatly aid both in the detection of early cancers and the diagnosis and monitoring of disease.”

ZumaTek said that its technology, dubbed mammotomography, has advantages over a mammogram and could potentially replace the mammogram and be the primary tool in breast cancer management.

“We can detect subtle changes in breast cells before a lump can be felt by hand or seen with X-ray mammography,” said Dr. Martin Tornai, Zumatek co-founder and associate professor in the Departments of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering at Duke University Medical Center. “Earlier detection is meant to enable doctors to more successfully treat breast cancer before it has formed a tumor or spread to lymph nodes. This is a major advancement that could save lives and improve overall quality of life.”

ZumaTek’s technology provides views of the breast from many different angles and reconstructs the image into a 3-D volume set, enabling the detection of tumors that are hidden by overlapping anatomical structures. The technology may also be used in conjunction with certain treatments to improve delivery and monitoring of therapeutics.

• Boston Micromachines (BMC; Watertown, Massachusetts), a provider of MEMS-based deformable mirror (DM) products for adaptive optics (AO), reported being awarded a $750,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Grant (SBIR) from the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the NIH. This grant will enable BMC and its research partner the School of Optometry at Indiana University (IU; Bloomington) to develop an instrument that will enable high resolution retinal imaging of 95% of the population, providing advancement in the diagnosis of eye diseases in the elderly.

The system being developed collaboratively by BMC and the IU School of Optometry will include a MEMS deformable mirror and an adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) instrument. This new instrument will be capable of providing sufficient wavefront corrections of the eye to image 95% of the population.

BMC is a provider of MEMS-based mirror products used in commercial AO systems, applying wavefront correction to produce high resolution images of the human retina and enhance images blurred by the earth’s atmosphere.