X-ZELL CEO reveals ground-breaking new microscopy method
In a bid to make the benefits of immunofluorescence staining more accessible in clinical routine, he revealed how to simultaneously visualize seven fluorophores under a conventional, widely available widefield fluorescence microscope.
“Immunofluorescence staining has become an essential tool in pathology and the biomedical sciences, and yet we’re only just starting to leverage the full potential behind it,” Dr Bhakdi explained – noting that it was X-ZELL’s own, powerful Cryoimmunostaining™ technology that inspired his research.
“The problem is that visualizing technologies haven’t kept up with progress in the immunostaining field – especially when it comes to moving from a research lab to clinical routine. As a result, many scientists are still unable to tap the technology’s full potential.”
According to Dr Bhakdi, traditional widefield fluorescence microscopy “simply hasn’t been up to the task” until now because it’s usually restricted to imaging three or four fluorophores only. “Cutting-edge technologies like X-ZELL Cryoimmunostaining™, however, allow us to venture into whole new territories in that space.”
Even advanced visualisation technologies such as confocal laser scanning microscopy and imaging flow cytometry often fail to add value, he continued. “While they overcome many shortcomings of traditional microscopy, they not only require extremely expensive equipment, but also sophisticated and slow downstream data processing.
“Even flow cytometry – which is capable of staining 20 or more fluorophores at the same time – doesn’t have all the answers, because it’s unable to reveal cell morphology, thus taking crucial information away from the sample.”
According to Dr Bhakdi, the capabilities of X-ZELL Cryoimmunostaining™ allowed him to develop a new method and filter set-up to routinely employ up to seven fluorophores on a traditional widefield fluorescence microscope equipped with a standard high-pressure mercury light source without cross-talk – thereby “combining the best of both worlds”, as he put it.
“Our solution finally allows us to visualize a sufficient number of fluorophores at the same time without sacrificing cell morphology, causing cross-talk or having to use complex compensation algorithms,” he announced. “This is ideal for imaging of rare-cells, such as tumor-derived Circulating Endothelial Cells, which can only be detected via Cryoimmunostaining™.
“And best of all, it is robust enough for use in a routine clinical setting – a quality other promising multi-parameter approaches to rare cell analysis are yet to demonstrate.”
Established in 2009 with investment from Vichit Suraphongchai – one of the leading figures in Southeast Asian banking – and material support from Thailand’s premier science university, Mahidol University, X-ZELL Inc. started out as a classic university spin-off.
It is the brainchild of Dr Sebastian Chakrit Punyaratabandhu Bhakdi, a German-Thai physician who was working in Bangkok on a fellowship from the German Research Foundation (GFR) when he came across a new way of magnetically separating malaria cells from a blood sample. Upon conclusion of his research, Dr Bhakdi continued to refine the technology and successfully applied it to cancer cell detection, which eventually led to the creation of X-ZELL Inc. The young company’s international breakthrough then came at Y Combinator’s W15 Winter Batch in early 2016, where it showcased a new way of reliably detecting ultra-rare CEC at an early stage – allowing physicians to diagnose malign cancer when it is still treatable. X-ZELL Inc. completed the program with a rare Honourable Mention and seed investment by various Silicon Valley-based angel investors, among them US start-up guru, Paul Buchheit – the creator and lead developer of Gmail. After returning to Bangkok, Dr Bhakdi fast-tracked the company’s corporate evolution with the opening of X-ZELL Inc.’s first overseas office in Sunnyvale, California, and the recruitment of key investor and COO, Johannes Hille, in early 2017. Since then, the company has launched myriad research projects and successfully brought its first commercial cancer test, X-ZELL Prostate™, to market in the Kingdom of Thailand.