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Taking The Animal Out Of Animal Testing -- Applied Biophysics, Harnesses Technology For Cell Research

Troy, N.Y. - A Rensselaer Incubator company has commercialized a technology that may take the animal out of animal testing.

Ivar Giaever, a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Charlie Keese, a senior research scientist at the Institute, have developed the Electric Cell-Substrate Impedance Sensing-ECIS 100 --which uses electricity to study complex cell behavior.

Giaever and Keese founded Applied Biophysics Inc. at the Rensselaer Incubator Center in 1993. Since then, they've licensed the ECIS technology for commercial use and have sold more than 20 systems worldwide. Giaever recently presented his research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in January.

Using the new electric biosensor instead of the traditional petri dish and microscope to study cells offers unprecedented sensitivity and detailed results, says Giaever. Data can be taken as often as every quarter-second to follow a cell's behavior movements. The software runs on a Windows 98 platform and manages all data acquisition, storage, and analysis.

"This method offers a non-invasive technique for testing animal cells," Giaever explains. "By electronically eavesdropping on cells, we can examine and measure the activity of live cells over time. This is an entirely new way of doing tissue culture. Because the system is computer-based, highly quantitative data can be gathered in real time, 24 hours a day, with minimal lab time and personnel involved."

In the cosmetics industry for example whole live animals are used to test products. The ECIS 100 eliminates the need to carry out tests on live animals and yields more comprehensive data when studying toxic effects on cells.

Giaever says these fundamental measurements impact many areas of cell research including in vitro toxicology, and understanding a cell's metastatic potential.

Live cells are electronically "cultured" in tiny trays equipped with eight holding bays with its own low alternating current delivered via a tiny gold electrode. When electricity is present a cell will spread out over the electrode and scientists are able to measure changes to cells over time. Scientists can also understand how other cells react to repair a wounded cell.

Giaever says being in the Incubator has given his company a business boost. He says the wealth of new ideas from the constant influx of energetic students creates a dynamic positive atmosphere in which to do business.

The units, which retail at about $40,000 apiece, are in use in Japan, Germany and Taiwan, as well as in several U.S. Universities and biotechnology companies such as Genentech Inc. in South San Francisco. There are four systems in use on the Rensselaer campus.

Giaever and Keese began developing the ECIS 100 system in 1991 with Small Business Innovation Research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on the Rensselaer Incubator, go to http://www.rpi.edu/dept/incubator/homepage/

Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. April 1999.

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