Kayla Hill discusses the latest trends in cellular imaging
We recently hosted a webinar with our Field Applications Scientist, Kayla Hill, PhD, who explored high-content analysis and phenotypic characterization of 2D and 3D cellular models using the ImageXpress® Micro Confocal system. We asked Kayla to tell us more about her role and share her perspectives on some of the emerging applications in cellular imaging.
Kayla, please tell us a bit about your background.
Before joining Molecular Devices, I completed my graduate PhD studies at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). I worked in the Department of Pathology, where studying noise-induced hearing loss was my main focus. With noise-induced hearing loss, there are certain cell types in the inner ear that die when exposed to traumatic noise levels. I performed a large number of cellular imaging evaluations of different mechanisms for cell death and identified ways in which it could be prevented.
In the field of hearing loss, researchers don’t have access to the same types of cell lines that our typical customers would use. So much of my research involved the use of mice models. In working with animal cell models, I relied on confocal imaging to understand the cellular mechanisms of the inner ear. This served as a good foundation for me to transition to the high-content imaging systems at Molecular Devices.
What or who inspired you to get into the field of science?
From a young age, I always had a drive to learn new things. Growing up, my father was an Encyclopedia Britannica Representative. Consequently, our household had a ton of books related to different scientific topics. Reading these books really sparked my interest in science.
Can you tell us more about your role at Molecular Devices?
I am the Field Applications Scientist (FAS) Supervisor for our Bioimaging team. I’ve been in this new supervisory position for the past six months.
There are presently five FAS team members and we cover separate territories across the United States. Currently, I cover the Northern California/Pacific Northwest regions. Although my territory is quite large, the major hot spots for me are the Bay Area and Seattle regions. Being local is advantageous for my customers, because I can get to them quickly and interact with them frequently.
As an FAS, I work with customers on both the post- and pre-sale side. On the pre-sale side, I support the drug discovery sales representatives by conducting educational seminars. These seminars can be general in nature or more focused one-on-one sessions with customers, where I answer technical questions related to their specific application.
I also perform product demonstrations in which I run actual samples on our imaging systems. Due to the quarantine restrictions in recent months, we’ve conducted a lot of virtual demonstrations from our San Jose facility. For product demos, we traditionally ship the imaging systems directly to the site and conduct the installation so that potential customers can see the entire hardware setup and understand how the instrument fits within their own environment. Having the system at their facility enables them to use their own samples, and truly evaluate the performance of the system so that they can make an informed decision when they purchase.
On the post-sale side, I conduct installation and follow-up trainings. Our installation trainings typically last two full days. During this time, we show customers how to run the instrument and conduct analysis. Over the course of the year, our team conducts follow-up training sessions to reinforce best practices and ensure that everything is running smoothly for our customers. Our trainings are really tailored to the unique needs of each customer. We typically have discussions with our customers prior to the training to get a good understanding of exactly the type of samples and assays they want to run. During the training we ask customers to have their assays on hand so that we can show them exactly how the system will work.
What are some of the common questions that you get from customers in regard to cellular imaging?
Recently we’ve provided a lot of support to customers around fluorescence multiplexing assays. Essentially, customers are looking to maximize their assay and acquire as much information as possible in a single experiment. Multiplexing allows them to add six or more dyes in one experiment and multiplex as many signals as possible. This may involve customizing light sources and filters to help them maximize their assay. In this respect, we work closely with customers to determine what dyes to use and customize our technology to accommodate their needs.
In terms of customization and flexibility, how would you rate our cellular imaging systems?
I would say that our ImageXpress systems offer unmatched flexibility when it comes to hardware and software options. Through our Customization and Automation team, we have the capability to customize our imaging systems to meet the unique needs of our customers. Our customers help us to continue to push the limits of what we can offer in terms of imaging.
On the software side, we can help customers customize their imaging workflows. Typically, automated imaging systems are limited in terms of workflow customization. Because our systems are open-ended, you are able to add as many custom steps as you want to the entire process, which is referred to as journals. This is basically our version of a macro. Our team, along with Technical Support, are always working with customers to create these custom workflows. This can modify the way the software drives the hardware or modify the way the software analyzes the data.
What are some of the new applications that you see emerging in cellular imaging?
I think cell painting is one application that is really trending right now. Cell painting is a way of profiling cells by multiplexing multiple channels. This technique allows you to image up to six fluorophores in one sample and apply machine learning (AI) to help differentiate how the cells respond to different drugs or treatments.
We are starting to see more scientific publications from customers who have used the ImageXpress system for cell painting. In turn, we are starting to obtain more requests from customers who want to learn how to use the ImageXpress system for this application.
Along the same lines of multiplexing, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) assays are becoming more popular for conducting cell barcoding. Here, researchers are multiplexing six or seven channels to barcode different genes within cells. Ultimately, they are able to profile cells and create a large informatics platform.
What other advancements or applications do you envision for cellular imaging over the next few years?
Over the next few years, I think our customers will be looking to get even more information out of their data. To meet this demand, I envision our technology being able to image more colors at the same time and provide higher resolution. That said, we will need to be able to manage this large amount of data. I think we will be relying more on machine learning and deep learning analysis algorithms to help customers manage these larger datasets.
What excites you most about Molecular Devices and our portfolio of imaging systems?
I really enjoy working with everyone here at Molecular Devices. The environment is very supportive, and everyone is eager to bring new ideas to the table. Even though I’ve worked as a Field Applications Scientist for over four years, I feel that there’s always something new and exciting to learn with our imaging systems. In working with customers, I get excited to learn about all the new and trending applications. I also feel very connected to their research and get inspired by the different ways in which they are making an impact.
When you’re not working in the lab, how do you like to spend your time?
I enjoy spending time outdoors. I like to go on hiking and camping trips with my husband. I especially enjoy visiting Yosemite and Zion national parks!