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Your Environment. Your Health.

New Tool Rapidly Evaluates Chemical Effects on Cells

Bevin Engelward, Sc.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
R44ES024698, P42ES027707, R01ES022872

NIEHS grantees have developed a new toxicity test that can measure the effects of chemicals on cell survival. The tool is much faster than the gold standard cell survival tool and more sensitive than other rapid cell toxicity tests.

With their new test, the MicroColonyChip, cells are grown in small wells on a plate and the number of cells per colony is quantified by staining the DNA with a fluorescent tag and measuring the level of fluorescence. The researchers developed a publicly available companion software program, which was used to measure the amount of fluorescent DNA in each well and calculated the amount of cell growth. The researchers could estimate the toxicity of a compound being studied by comparing growth of treated and untreated cells.

The researchers compared their new test to the gold standard colony formation assay and found that the results were the same, and the sensitivity was nearly identical. With MicroColonyChip, the test took 3-5 days, instead of the 2-3 weeks required for the gold standard test. Colonies were assessed using their automated image analysis software instead of counting by eye. The new test used a small 96-well plate format, instead of large dishes, which required approximately 250 times less surface area than the gold standard test.

Compared with other more rapid cell toxicity tests, the MicroColonyChip is more sensitive and less prone to inaccurate cell counts due to changes in experimental conditions, such as pH. According to the authors, the new test is a powerful tool for many applications, including screens for drug development, epidemiological studies, and chemical safety studies.

Citation: Ngo LP, Chan TK, Ge J, Samson LD, Engelward BP. 2019. Microcolony size distribution assay enables high-throughput cell survival quantitation. Cell Rep 26(6):1668–1678.e4.

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