Laser captures cells for microdissection

A device used to select pure populations of potentially cancerous and cancerous cells from tumor samples, originally developed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD), is now in commercial production at Arcturus Engineering (Mountain View, CA). In September, the company moved out of its shared space with New Focus (Santa Clara, CA) and into a 10,000-sq ft facility to ram¥u¥production of the laser-capture microdissection devices.

Laser captures cells for microdissection

Hassaun Jones-Bey

A device used to select pure populations of potentially cancerous and cancerous cells from tumor samples, originally developed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD), is now in commercial production at Arcturus Engineering (Mountain View, CA). In September, the company moved out of its shared space with New Focus (Santa Clara, CA) and into a 10,000-sq ft facility to ram¥u¥production of the laser-capture microdissection devices.

Founded about a year ago by New Focus (Santa Clara, CA) chairman Milton Chang and Arcturus president Thomas Baer to build laser and optical components and biomedical instrumentation for the clinical diagnostic market, Arcturus has developed a commercial version of the laser-capture microdissection device and has also applied for several patents, according to Baer (see Fig. 1). The development is part of a collaborative agreement with the NIH.

Device operation

The prototype laser-capture microdissection device was conceived and demonstrated by Robert Bonner, Lance Liotta, and other optical and biological scientists at the NIH, who are affiliated with the Cancer Gene Anatomy Project that was officially launched in August. Using the system, a pathologist who is viewing a tumor sample through a microscope can pick suspicious-looking cells out of a sample with a focused, pulsed laser beam that is coaxial with the microscope.1

When the desired section of the sample has been localized through the microscope, the laser can be pulsed to activate the same portion of a transparent--ethylene vinyl acetate polymer-- thermoplastic film that covers the sample. The activated film fuses, nondestructively, to the selected cells in the sample, and the selected cells remain fused to the film when it is removed. The NIH grou¥found that a low-power--less than 50 mW--near-infrared CO2 laser was sufficient for film activation. The grou¥has applied for several patents for the prototype design (see Fig. 2).

"A pathologist walks u¥to this instrument and what he sees is an inverted microscope that he`s used all of his life, plus a button to push," Baer said. "So he is able to adapt very easily, and it takes us [only] about 10 minutes to train [a new user]."

Arcturus has entered a renewable two-year cooperative research and development agreement with the NIH and has been taking orders for the devices, shipping them and providing demonstrations for customers since this summer, Baer said. Arcturus replaced the CO2 laser with a semiconductor source with power output in the tens of milliwatts range. The stand-alone device sells for $50,000 and is also available with a workstation that provides video archiving for another $10,000.

"We deliberately tried to scale this device so it was a very simple instrument to use," Baer said.

REFERENCE

1. M. R. Emmet-Buck et al., Science, 274(5289), 998 (Nov. 8, 1996).

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