Spectroscopy method measures cells to improve cancer drug development

Animated Dynamics, a life sciences startup of Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN), has developed an optical method involving spectroscopy to help pharmaceutical companies find more effective drug candidates and improve the results of personalized cancer care.

Related: Optical innovations for cancer detection and treatment

David Nolte, the company's president, says that pharmaceutical companies screen millions of compounds annually to find new drug candidates. In traditional lead testing, which occurs at a later stage in the process, tens of thousands of compounds are screened in Petri dishes.

"The biology happening in Petri dishes during lead testing is not the biology that goes on inside a tissue. There are differences in how cells respond to drugs in a three-dimensional environment, which means the results that occur in Petri dishes may not be the same as the results that occur in the body," says Nolte, who also is a professor in Purdue's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "The advantage our technology provides is that it can help with lead selection of compounds in a biologically relevant context."

Nolte and John Turek, the company's executive VP and CFO, developed technology that uses holography and lasers to study a cell's phenotype, or the observable traits that result from how cells in tissues interact with their environment.  

Turek, who also is a professor in Purdue's Department of Basic Medical Sciences, says that the technology makes digital holograms of tissues. The holographic technique allows researchers to see all the way through a tissue, not just the surface.

"We use spectroscopy to measure the time-dependent changes in the hologram," Turek says. "It breaks down the changes into different frequencies, and we can tell how a cell's membranes, mitochondria, nucleus, and even cell division respond to drugs. We measure the frequency of the light fluctuations as a function of time after a drug is applied."

Nolte says that the company's technology can be used to assess the efficacy of drug combinations, called regimens, on personal cancers.

"No two cancers are alike. Therefore, every patient needs his or her own selected therapy to get the best results," he says. "Our technology can measure a cancer tumor's response to cancer therapy, such as metabolism and cell division. This can tell how well the drug is working for the patient and can aid in predicting side effects."

The technology has been licensed to the company through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization, and was highlighted in a letter of the Journal of Biomedical Optics. For more information, please visit http://youtu.be/sWGv7h54mLE.

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