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Cell culture automation - Articles and news items
As RNA interference (RNAi) enters its teenage years from the first critical observations, it has now reached a multi-billion pound industry. There are few research areas that have expanded as quickly and spectacularly as the field of RNAi. The potential of RNAi initially sparked a functional genomics gold rush. Different uses of this technology in genomewide screens have identified genes involved in fundamental biological processes. There are now hundreds of research papers reporting genome-wide screens using cell culture to investigate the building blocks of the cell. However tempting it may be to speculate that this technology could be the new magic bullet to all our research needs, especially after some of the previous successes, some basic aspects of the RNAi technology and screening process still need to be addressed and improved upon. This review will investigate the strengths and weaknesses of our current technology, suggesting improvements and highlighting some of the novel growth areas in this field.
Our foundations of cell biology rely upon an understanding of cellular pathways, the components of which have been investigated over the last 40 years or so. Recent embellish – ment of the pathways has been carried out using models in cell culture with RNAi technology1. Many techniques have been used to reveal the functions of core pathway proteins, but few have sparked the imagination like the RNAi screen with the potential to systematically knock down the expression of every gene in the genome.
Cell culture assays play an important role during the first stages of pharmaceutical development. The design of such in vitro models is significant and data resulting from such tests directly influences the progression of compound development. Therefore it is becoming progressively more important to design cell culture assays that are more representative of the behaviour of cells in living tissues. As a consequence, investigators are developing technology to enhance the cell culture environment and enable cells to grow in ways resembling their in vivo counterparts. This is particularly relevant to the design of culture models that enable three dimensional cell growth in vitro.
During the last decade, technical developments have dramatically changed the way cell-based assays could be implemented and used in research and development organisations. Although cell-based assays have moved into a modern era, cells are still grown and maintained in the same way as decades ago; i.e. manually. However, automation systems with the ability to grow and maintain cells have emerged, bringing us closer to the dream of fully automated cell culture.
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