Stemonix uses three of our solutions to validate their microBrain 3D Assay Ready Plates


FLIPR Tetra High-Throughput Cellular Screening System

ImageXpress Micro Confocal High-Content Imaging System

SpectraMax i3x Multi-Mode Microplate Reader

The Challenge

Current models available to neuroscience researchers have limitations that hamper the development of new medicines. Complex models, such as post-mortem brains and animal models, more closely capture human brain complexity; however, post-mortem human brains are difficult to obtain and only represent the final disease stage. Moreover, animal models may not fully recapitulate the features of the human brain, making it difficult to translate such assays for clinical applications. While in vitro models such as cell culture can be easily scaled up, they lack the complex organization and structure of the human brain. Human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived brain organoids are a very promising tool, but still display high variability and lack functional assays to assess phenotypes. The neuroscience field has been missing a model able to capture the unique brain development and function in vitro in a highly homogenous fashion for developing new drugs to treat nervous system disorders.

The Solution

Scientists at StemoniX® tackled this gap by developing the microBrain® 3D platform. Using hiPSC-derived neural progenitor cells, they created highly homogenous 3D neural cortical spheroids that more closely resemble the human cortical brain. Their platform is comprised of mature neurons and astrocytes that are active and respond to neuromodulators similarly to primary neural cultures. Plus, they designed their platform in a 384-well format for use in conjunction with high-content screening instruments, such as the FLIPR Tetra® High-Throughput Cellular Screening System and the ImageXpress® Micro Confocal High-Content Imaging System, enabling homogenous assessment of functional human brain physiology in vitro.

The Results

The StemoniX microBrain 3D platform is a homogenous 3D neural spheroid system in a 384-well format. Using the ImageXpress Micro Confocal system for brightfield capture and automated size measurement, we observed highly homogenous size distribution with typical coefficients of variation of less than 4% across an individual plate. Immunofluorescence analysis using the ImageXpress microscope revealed that these 3D spheroids are composed of neurons and astrocytes that display key markers of cellular maturity, such as synaptic proteins. Moreover, these spheroids presented spontaneous and synchronized calcium oscillations that are easily detected on both the FLIPR Tetra System and ImageXpress Confocal system. The functional maturity of the microBrain 3D platform was confirmed by examining a panel of neuromodulators with known mechanisms of action. Using the FLIPR Tetra System, we observed modulation of neural activity that correlated with the expected activity of these compounds.

Finally, in a toxicological case study, we selected a targeted library of compounds with different potencies against the Zika Virus infection. We first used the SpectraMax® i3x Multi-Mode Microplate Reader to investigate cell toxicity of this compound library on the microBrain 3D platform. The cellular toxicity analysis was complemented with functional toxicity, investigated in a high throughput fashion with the FLIPR Tetra System. Finally, we used the ImageXpress confocal system to generate high-resolution videos of calcium oscillations following each treatment. Altogether, integration of microBrain 3D in multiple platforms resulted in extensive characterization of the toxicological profile of a targeted library and demonstrated the feasibility of integrating this platform for in vitro investigations of complex neural phenotypes, toxicological profiles, and drug screening.

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