Nikon have launched a new 'hands off' system that combines an incubator and inverted microscope to allow automated live-cell culture studies and time-lapse imaging in a controlled environment.
The BioStation CT has been designed to precisely control environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity and the CO2
content within the instrument and removes the need for culture dishes to be transported from the incubator to the microscope and back again.
This should allow researchers working in regenerative medicine, drug discovery and biologically-based drug production to study their cell cultures in an optimum environment while reducing experimental variability due to cell degradation and minimises the scope for contamination.
"We believe that the study of cells is key to the future of mankind and this is why Nikon is pursuing a route into instrumentation and equipment that works towards looking after cells while they are being studied," said Robert Forster, general manager for Nikon UK Instruments.
The system can house up to 30 cell culture flasks of various sizes including 24 well-plates that are moved from the storage racks to the high contrast microscope by means of a state of the art robotic system that minimises the vibrations that can move cells.
The system has two imaging methods, a macro camera to allow researchers to check the entire vessel and detect pH-dependant colour changes and a high-quality inverted microscope that allows up to 40x magnification.
The microscope uses special lenses that provide the highest possible contrast ratio and because it is sat in a precisely controlled environment does not suffer from drift.
The auto focus system and robotic stage allow users to pick specific points for imaging and the system can be set to cycle through various culture vessels and pre- or user-defined locations to enable 'walk away' time lapse imaging.
The system can also be fitted with a fluorescence source and filters allowing researchers to study specific cellular processes if fluorescent reporter molecules are used.
Dr Stephen Minger, of Kings College London, UK, has been testing the first commercial instrument in his laboratory for the last couple of months and said: "you might think you are growing cultures in controlled environment, but every time you take the cells out of the incubator not only do the cells you are studying cool down, but so do all the others in the incubator."
"With the BioStation CT the cells never leave the incubator and the system can be set to automatically take an image at defined points every 15 minutes allowing you to monitor the cells without changing the environment they are in."
The system stores all the images on a 4Tb (terabyte) file server that can be accessed via a secure internet connection from anywhere in the world, allowing users to follow an experiment when they are at home or on a business trip.
The system also houses its own vibration damping system and an uninterruptible power supply that ensures the system will continue working for 8 hours after any power cut.
Currently, the only time the cells need to be removed from the system is for feeding, but Nikon are working on a solution to automate this process as well.