Harvard Bioscience, Inc., a global life science manufacturing and distribution company, has developed a non-invasive beta cell screening system for diabetes research that leverages multielectrode arrays (MEAs) to take measurements from intact pancreatic islets cells, which produce insulin.
The new Beta Cell-System’s use of multielectrode arrays offers a new route for type 2 diabetes drug development. MEAs are devices that serve as neural interfaces that connect neurons to electric circuitry for use either in vivo or in vitro.
Maulik Oza, electrophysiology strategic marketing manager at Harvard Bioscience, told Pharmaceutical Processing that using MEAs for islet cells is a unique capability.
“Historically, the technology was first recorded in the 1970s and since then it came to the forefront in the 90s and early 2000s when it was implemented for neurological and cardio research,” Oza said. “Beta screening is an extension of this and Harvard Bioscience has identified and proven a way to make it work with islet cells from the pancreases, which play a critical role in diabetes.”
Oza explained that traditionally, electrophysiological data is recorded using the patch-clamp technique. Developed in the late 1970s, it is one of the most challenging laboratory methods. The technique involves puncturing a cell’s membrane with a glass pipette that contains electrolyte solution. Once inserted, a membrane patch is isolated electrically, and the exchange of ions across the membrane can be recorded.
However, MEA allows a researcher to imbed electrodes right into the glass, so beta cells (islet cells) can be conserved on the dish. The electrodes are embedded in the substrate and electrical activity of the cells can be picked up. “This has not been done before in diabetes research,” Oza said.
Conservation of the beta cells is the key to what makes Harvard Bioscience’s system so unique because it aids drug discovery by making long-term studies possible. In the MEA system, the cell’s membrane is not being punctured, so the cells can be utilized for days at a time.
Oza referenced a European scientific paper that reported 35 days in culture using the system.
Pharmaceutical scientists now can look at electrophysiological data on a larger time scale, allowing them to record the effects of a drug on the cell over time.
Furthermore, because the electrodes are embedded in a glass substrate, they easily can be multiplied and turned into a high throughput. Traditionally, with a patch-clamp, a scientist has to manually patch each and every cell, which is very time-consuming. A single patch-clamp experiment recording could take five or six hours.
“With the Beta Cell-System,” Oza said, “40 islet cells can be worked on at the same time. It’s a highly automated process.”
Traditional methods of electrophysiology data recording, according to Oza, provide only endpoint data. However, the MEA technology in the Beta Cell-System allows continuous data recording while the testing process is taking place by recording ion oscillation, which provides insight into insulin secretion.
While the Harvard Bioscience system comes in two configurations, the MEA 2100 is the preferred configuration for drug discovery.
“In this configuration,” Oza said, “cell activity can be recorded over time, and if you’re studying type 2 diabetes, which progresses slowly, and wanted to study a drug’s effect on the beta cells, you would need to culture and monitor the cells over days or weeks to see how the drug expresses itself over longer durations. This is possible with the MEA 2100.”
Oza concluded by saying that there has been some high levels of interest in onboarding the technology, particularly within the National Institutes of Health and labs associated with Harvard University.
The Beta Cell-System was launched by Multi Channel Systems, a subsidiary of Harvard Biosciences, Inc. at the beginning of May 2018.