Single-cell cloning solution speeds breakthroughs

Using CellRaft Array technology created at Carolina, Cell Microsystems allows scientists to get better results faster.

Caleb Fleming building a cellraft system.
Caleb Fleming, a research and development design engineer, builds the CellRaft AIR System for Cell Microsystems. (Submitted photo)

Cell Microsystems’ technologies allow researchers to image, identify and isolate viable single cells for analysis more successfully and efficiently than ever. Its core CellRaft technology was invented in the UNC-Chapel Hill lab of Dr. Nancy Allbritton, who co-founded the company in 2010 with chemistry professor Dr. Christopher Sims and researcher Yuli Wang in 2010.

Scientists working in the pharma-biotech and academic industries need to isolate single cells to understand and develop treatments for diseases. The traditional methods they relied on in the past, such as single-cell RNA sequencing, can destroy the original cell, are labor- and time-intensive and have low yield rates.

The CellRaft Array technology created at Carolina allows scientists to get better results faster. “The traditional way of doing single-cell clonal propagation is a 10-week process, but with our CellRaft Array, you can go from single cells to a plate full of clones in five to 10 days,” said Gary Pace, who became the Cell Microsystems CEO in 2014.

Over the past 10 years, Cell Microsystems tested its technology and developed products based on the needs of its customers. One of the company’s early breakthroughs came through CRISPR, technology that works like molecular scissors to cut DNA at specific locations and help scientists add, remove or replace genetic material to treat genetic diseases.

“We played with other applications before that, but they didn’t address a particular market,” Pace said. “Once we recognized CRISPR as a key application, we saw there was a whole world out there built around clonal propagation from single cells — a world that has only gotten bigger. CRISPR allowed us to begin to focus on specific markets.”

A single-cell platform

To extend the power of its core technology, the company developed an automated platform that allows scientists to watch a single cell divide multiple times. Captured images help researchers identify specific cell attributes that are important for further analysis.

The platform is driven by Cell Microsystems’ proprietary software called CellRaft Cytometry, which automates how the system isolates cells and captures images. The software’s image-based verification capabilities let researchers specify precise attributes they’re interested in — such as cell shape or colony size — and then identify cell colonies that meet their specifications.

The software brings together insights on single-cell propagation, clone colony size and observable genetic characteristics. “Our CellRaft Cytometry software creates a Venn diagram of those three distinct observations, and then you can isolate just the cells in the position on the array that overlap all three of those circles of the Venn diagram,” Pace said. “We’ve collapsed a number of the different modalities of a single-cell workflow into a single platform. And that’s very powerful. No one else has that.”

Cell Microsystems licenses intellectual property for the foundational technology invented at UNC-Chapel Hill used in the CellRaft product and worked with the UNC Office of Technology Commercialization on other joint patents for the company’s automated platform. The company has also filed patents on its own inventions.

With a well-integrated set of technologies built around user needs, Cell Microsystems offers researchers a single solution that packs a powerful punch. “For scientists, there are benefits across the board: high viability, very efficient, amenable to a large number of cell lines and an integrated platform that gives you cytometric data that you can’t get anywhere else,” Pace said.

Read more about Cell Microsystems.