AI cell analysis app aims to boost biotech research

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A transformative technology developed in Vancouver Prostate Center (VPC) puts cell analysis in the hands of scientists around the world. The technology – an artificial intelligence (AI) based smartphone application called SnapCyte — produces data for medical research on cell growth faster and at a fraction of the cost compared to current technology.

“We developed SnapCyte based on a need for affordable, basic cell analysis accessible to any scientist working in a cell culture or biotechnology lab,” says Dr. Mads Daugaard, associate professor of urological sciences at UBC and Principal Investigator at VPC. “This app makes affordable, high-performance lab technology commercially available, easily accessible on a smartphone.”

Used in the analysis of cancer cells and other diseases at the microscopic scale, the first-of-its-kind smartphone app aims to accelerate the development of new personalized medical treatments. Dr. Daugaard and his team at VPC, a center of excellence hosted by UBC and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, developed the technology based on their own need for fast and accurate cell growth data. Now they want to bring the breakthrough technology to researchers around the world.

“The app returns precision data results in five minutes,” he says. “With older technology, this process would normally take 45 minutes to an hour with the most high-end live cell imaging and analysis platforms, or 24 hours with colorimetric assays.”

Dr. Mads Daugaard

Researchers say SnapCyte simplifies workflows without compromising accuracy. Unlike current technology which uses duplicate samples of a cell culture with a medium/serum solution, SnapCyte can be used on experiments in the plates where the cell culture is grown. It also collects and displays cumulative cell data in growth curves to help track cell development over time, which can be easily shared among researchers.

“We developed SnapCyte based on a need for affordable, basic cell analysis accessible to any scientist working in a cell culture or biotechnology lab.”
Dr. Mads Daugaard

“All you have to do is take the plate with the cell culture out of an incubator for a minute and put it under a microscope where you can then take a picture of it with your smartphone,” says Dr Daugaard.

Scientists can also monitor cell growth in the same well or stack of plates continuously and add nucleic acids or other substances – in a process called transfection – when optimal.

“This platform can be very useful for drug testing,” says Dr. Daugaard. “When comparing multiple drug candidates, SnapCyte can very accurately and quickly assess how each drug acts on cancer or other cells to identify the most effective treatment.”

Bringing Cellular Analysis to Laboratories Worldwide

At a few hundred dollars per year, the app’s affordability makes the platform an accessible option for labs that are unable to purchase expensive cell analysis equipment.

“Many labs don’t have the funding to buy new $25,000 to $30,000 machines, or the budget to support the ongoing investment of thousands of dollars a month required to run the equipment,” says Dr. Daugaard.

SnapCyte’s cloud-based platform not only allows users to accurately measure their collective cell culture data in minutes, but the big data it collects could also provide important insights to advance scientific research.

The app’s AI algorithm constantly learns from data received from its users, says Dr. Daugaard. Although the data is protected, the effectiveness of the app will improve over time as it learns and shares information with the research community.

“It’s time to democratize research, and that’s what we’re doing here,” says Dr. Daugaard. “We’re bringing something to market for a fraction of the cost that will perform at least as well – if not better – than many other devices currently available.”

The SnapCyte app is currently undergoing final beta testing and is expected to launch globally early next year.

A version of this story originally appeared on the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute website.

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