Honors Gallery

With ORNL tech, SCIEX system can analyze at cell level for more precise medical research 

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2022

Award Type: National

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

Longtime partners Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and SCIEX are taking their mass spectrometry (MS) collaboration to a new level, with the integration of ORNL’s single-cell resolution technology into SCIEX’s high-end MS analysis system. 

Cells are naturally heterogeneous, exhibiting differences in chemistry due to their history, age and microenvironment, among other factors. Even cells generated from a single source develop variations in their composition over time.  

These variations contribute to the difficult-to-predict results of medical treatments, such as chemotherapy. Often a treatment will effectively kill only some tumor cells, while other cells are resistant. Because the unique chemical makeup of each individual cell cannot be generalized to the overall population of cells in a tumor, therapies must also be unique for maximum effectiveness. 

Unfortunately, conventional measurements of cell chemistry fail to identify cellular variations by measuring cellular chemistry only across a population of cells. Researchers therefore have an urgent need to better understand this variability at a single-cell level. 

CellSight is a method for measuring the composition of individual cells at unprecedented speeds using high-throughput MS, an analytical process able to detect, identify and quantify the chemical species in a sample. CellSight employs another ORNL innovation — the Open Port Sampling Interface (OPSI) — that simplifies the process of transferring samples to a mass spectrometer. 

In addition to its technical benefits, CellSight represents a foray into continued ORNL-SCIEX collaborations to extend the capabilities of SCIEX’s Echo® MS. Launched in 2020, this premium mass spectrometer system streamlines and simplifies laboratory workflows while providing ultra-fast sample analysis and unmatched data quality — thanks in part to ORNL’s OPSI technology, which was integrated under a previous license. 

Conventional methods fail to identify cellular variations because they measure cell chemistry across a population of cells. ORNL's Cellsight, which measures the composition of individual cells at unprecedented speeds, addresses this problem. 

Echo MS is expected to significantly reduce costs for biopharma companies and enable more comprehensive drug screening campaigns than were previously feasible, by quantifying drug uptake and metabolism with single-cell resolution. This area of expanding R&D represents a multibillion-dollar opportunity across industries, including cancer diagnosis, pharmacokinetics, environmental monitoring and more. 

ORNL and SCIEX have co-developed advances in mass spectroscopy for 25 years, starting with a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) issued in 1997. SCIEX signed a non-exclusive license for the CellSight technology in December 2020, and a new CRADA was signed in June 2021 to research potential market opportunities and customer requirements for an upgraded version of Echo MS featuring CellSight capabilities. 

Licensed products developed under these agreements are expected to provide a significant impact to ORNL royalty revenues in the coming years. Sales from Echo MS are projected to exceed $100 million over the next decade, and royalties from the first year of sales have already come in. Importantly, these royalties funnel back into the lab to nurture the development of new innovations. 

Team Members:

Dr. John Cahil, Dr. Jennifer Caldwell, Dr. Tom Covey, Dr. Vilmos Kertesz, Phil Kilby, Dr. Gary Van Berkel, and Jamie Wighton

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