26 May 2021

New Oncode Facility UFO Biosciences available for Oncode Researchers

Elize Brolsma

Elize Brolsma

Elize is part of Oncode’s communication team. She has over 10 years of experience in the com-munication industry, both for commercial and non-profit organisations. After obtaining her bache-lor and master degree in communication at Utrecht University, Elize worked as a communication professional at a research institute, PR agency, law firm and internet company. She has a strong focus on external communications and Public Relations. At Oncode - together with her colleagues - Elize produces the monthly newsletters for Oncode Investigators & Researchers and the Oncode digital magazine. She publishes content for the Oncode website and is responsible for all social media channels. She enjoys discussing science with researchers and support them in their outreach.

Together with her team, Oncode Investigator Miao-Ping Chien (Erasmus MC) created a novel microscope-based technique to investigate cells. Under the name UFO Biosciences, Chien and her team offer services to microscopically screen cell populations, identify cells of interest based on imageable phenotypes and then isolate and profile these cells to link these phenotypes of interest to their driving genotypes. Using this functional single cell sequencing (FUNseq) technology, they help researchers target cells that matter to them based on (a combination of) their dynamic behaviour, molecular identity or imageable characteristics. In this interview, Miao-Ping Chien explains why this technology is important and how the Oncode community can benefit from it.

What is unique about the technology you developed?

“Our technology aims to tackle the problems of cellular heterogeneity. This heterogeneity is very important in understanding why some cells behave the way they behave, why some cancer cells don’t respond to treatment, why others progress to a different cell type and again others metastasize. With our platform, we can high-throughput screen cell populations and analyse (combinations of) cellular features of individual cells: we can analyse static features like specific cellular morphology, size, spatial location (with respect to neighbouring cells), or protein expression patterns (i.e., in the nucleus or cytosol). In addition, we are able to capture dynamic, time-varying features, like specific cell migratory speed and trajectories, cell division phenotype (tripolar or abnormal bipolar division), or response after treatment. A lot of imaging was of course already done on phenomena like these, but with our technology we can do it for the first time on tens of thousands of cells in parallel and in real time, identify the cells with interesting phenotypes in real time, and then also isolate those specific cells for single cell sequencing. In that way, we can link causative genotypes to a wide variety of phenotypes of interest, in an individual sample (like a biopsy), in a single assay, and that is unique.”

Miao-Ping Chien. Photography by Marloes Verweij, Laloes Fotografie

How can researchers benefit from your technology?

“Because we built a custom imaging device, we can screen large populations of heterogeneous cells in a short time, under conditions that won’t affect cell health or viability. We implemented an advanced image analysis and real-time cell tracking algorithm to analyse large imaging data sets very quickly. This means we can accurately identify very specific and very sparse cell subpopulations. Our facility can help if you want to know whether certain behaviours happen in your cells. We can also support you if a certain subpopulation of cells behaves differently compared to other cell populations in your experiments, and you want to know what is going on with that behaviour or in that subpopulation of cells. Researchers can choose DNA or RNA profiling, and we can help screen, separate, and profile those specific cell populations. We work together with the Oncode Single-Cell Core sequencing facility (Single-Cell Core, Hubrecht Institute) for single cell DNA sequencing and with the Oncode spin-off Single Cell Discoveries, Hubrecht Institute) for single cell RNA sequencing.

How did Oncode Institute and Erasmus MC support you in setting up this facility?

“I joined Oncode Institute at the beginning of 2019 as an Oncode Investigator. A month before, I had filed a patent with the Erasmus MC Technology Transfer Office (TTO) for our technology. During the introductory meeting at Oncode, I mentioned that I really wanted to further valorize my technology. Shortly after that meeting Veerle Fleskens, Business Developer at Oncode, together with Debby Vissers, Business Developer at the Erasmus MC TTO joined me in taking part in the Venture Challenge – where the team and I learned more about translating our innovations to the market. Following that workshop, I worked with Veerle and Debby to create a strategy on how we could offer our technology as a service. I had no experience in setting up my own facility and Oncode and Erasmus MC offered a lot of practical advice on how to do this. Besides this, Oncode invested in our facility via their technology development fund. The facility also received funding from the Josephine Nefkens Stichting through Erasmus MC. In addition, Oncode and Erasmus MC opened up their network with potential future customers, investors, and strategic partners to me. I was also linked to other Oncode Investigators who I could possibly collaborate with in the future. The support of both Veerle and Debby was of great value to me and the team.”

- If you want to make use of this facility or are looking for more information, please contact Miao-Ping Chien via m.p.chien@erasmusmc.nl or info@ufobiosciences.com

- More information on the UFO Biosciences facility can be found via: https://www.ufobiosciences.com/

- Make sure to check out the other Oncode facilities that are available for Oncode researchers via: https://www.oncode.nl/facilities

- If you want more information on Oncode facilities or you would like to start your own, please contact Programme Manager Jacqueline Staring via Jacqueline.staring@oncode.nl

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