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Microfluidic platform "uses light patterns to pick up droplets and move them around"

Lightcast Discovery science splitting droplets
Lightcast Discovery science splitting droplets

Lightcast Discovery, whose next-generation microfluidic platform is set to revolutionise complex cell analysis, has raised £1.3million in seed financing to expand pilot studies.

Based at the Broers Building on JJ Thompson Avenue, Lightcast Discovery was launched on September 7. The company's automated cell manipulation platform offers "unrivalled flexibility and control, enabling complex and completely novel cell-based applications and workflows to be performed at scale and at speed". The novel factor is using software-generated light patterns to "precisely manipulate thousands of individual cell- and reagent-containing microdroplets independently and in parallel - live cells can be cultured, assayed, recovered and monitored at the single-cell level, pushing the current boundaries of complex cell analysis".

Lightcast was founded - and incorporated - by CEO Cameron Frayling and chief scientist Dr Tom Isaac in February.

The duo met at Base4, a single molecule DNA sequencing company. Dr Isaac, a physicist by training, had completed his PhD at Exeter University with a dissertation on surface plasmons in the Terahertz range.

Dr Tom Isaac, CSO, Lightcast Discovery
Dr Tom Isaac, CSO, Lightcast Discovery

Cameron Frayling, who has more than 12 granted patent families to his name and is the inventor behind a method for DNA sequencing using localised plasmon readout of individual nucleotides, founded Base4 to develop this method commercially. Base4 developed a highly capable technical team and creative environment, which has led to multiple spin-outs with game-changing technologies. Dr Isaac was employee number three. Over the past nine years Tom and Cameron have engaged successfully in multiple development projects at Base4, and one of them resulted in Lightcast.

"Cameron was the founder of Base4, I was an early employee," Dr Isaac told the Cambridge Independent. "The technology was developed at Base4 and we then sought a way to exploit it outside the sequencing platform, so it was deliberate outsourcing.

"The light patterns pick up every droplet and move it around, it's fundamental to the technology - it's time-saving and you can do a lot more than what's currently available."

Their previous collaborations have underpinned the next-generation microfluidic platform which is being tested.

“Tom is, without doubt, one of the smartest, most intellectually adaptable people I’ve ever met and his ability to absorb new fields of study continues to amaze me," says Cameron. “He is an ideal chief scientist for Lightcast, where so many different areas of biology and physics come together.”

Lightcast Discovery chip prototype
Lightcast Discovery chip prototype

The company has multiple pilot collaborations under way, driving advances in new science, clinical approaches, therapies and innovative products. These include projects in immuno-oncology, in which the mechanism of action of a leading new biologic drug is being screened in a multi-step, on-chip reaction between model cancer cells and T-cells, and in antibody development, in which discovery assays are being implemented on-chip to dramatically shorten the time to screen the immune repertoire of a host, accelerating lead discovery. The pilot studies involve "major pharma companies you will have heard of", says Dr Isaac. The £1.3million in seed financing from private investors will develop the capabilities and applications of the platform include continuing to expand its range of pilot studies.

The investment will fund research as well as pilot studies.

"There are multiple publications in development at the moment," adds Cameron. "The first publication will be a nice milestone."

The science points to a dramatic increase in quality and quantity of cell analysis.

Cameron Frayling, CEO, Lightcast Discovery
Cameron Frayling, CEO, Lightcast Discovery

“There is a drive towards increasingly complex cell analysis across life science, often using single cells,” says Cameron. “However, the tools to run effective single-cell workflows, particularly those with cell-cell interactions, multi-parameter cell selections, or cell-by-cell recovery, just aren’t there at the moment.

“The technology we’ve developed allows for a dramatic increase in the complexity of automated operations that can be performed at scale and using high quality imaging. Working with our partners, the unique capabilities of our platform are enabling a truly exciting range of high-impact applications.

“Ahead of commercial launch, we plan to develop successive prototypes with greater power and scale to enable our users to really advance their discoveries.”

The company is actively seeking collaborators and development partners with an interest in implementing new, cutting-edge assays on the Lightcast Discovery platform, and is expanding its multidisciplinary team accordingly by actively recruiting across a number of science and engineering roles at its Cambridge site.

It is also seeking to recruit a chief commercial officer and a head of discovery, as well as cell biologists, physicists, and a variety of advisory roles.

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