The key to drug discovery is an assay that fulfills several important criteria: relevance, robustness, practicality, feasibility, automation, cost, and quality.
In vitro assays monitor a surrogate readout, such as the catalytic action of an isolated enzyme, binding of an antibody to a defined antigen, or growth of an engineered cell line. An in vitro assay system can be designed using only recombinant reagents, reagents that were isolated from lysates, whole crude lysates, or intact cells.
Cell-based assays range in complexity from simple cytotoxicity or cell growth assays to more complex reporter gene assays that monitor activation of certain genes or gene products. In vitro functional assays can be even more complex. They often combine several molecular components to mimic the function of a biological process, such as activation of a signal transduction pathway.
In general, in vitro assays are robust and cost-effective. For these reasons they are usually amenable to high-throughput screening.
High-throughput screening assays are run in a parallel fashion using multi-well assay plates (96-, 384-, 1536-well). Assays run in 1536-well plates are sometimes referred to as ultra high-throughput screening (UHTS). HTS/UHTS commonly involves automation for liquid handling, sample preparation, running the assays, and data analysis. Labs frequently employ robots and the latest detection technologies for assay readouts. Not surprisingly, assay development can be a formidable challenge in terms of reagent stability, cost, robustness, and statistics.
Molecular Devices is an industry leader in cellular imaging and provides a number of configurations of multi-mode microplate readers, microplate handlers and washers, as well as label-free and high-content analysis systems.
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