Changing Lives Through Bio Innovation
Global climate change, access to clean water and the threat of new and reemergent diseases are only a few of the daunting challenges facing humanity today. Dealing with any one of them is going to require a heroic effort using the most advanced technology and processes available. It’s hard to imagine that existing technology and materials, even with incremental improvements, will be enough to solve the many problems on the horizon.
A global paradigm shift is in order. Many believe that the natural world and biological based technology, or biotechnology, offers the inspiration and pathways to making such a paradigm shift possible.
What is a bio-based economy? Franz Fischler, former Agriculture Commissioner for the European Union described it as, “ … paradigms that rely on biological processes … use natural inputs, expend minimum amounts of energy and do not produce waste as all materials discarded by one process are inputs for another process and are re-used in the ecosystem.”
The biological processes he mentions are an exciting and indispensable aspect of the bio-based economy. Juan Enríquez, the author and academic credited with coining the phrase “bio-based economy” describes how the discovery of DNA, and the subsequent ability to modify and reprogram cells, what he calls controlling the “life code” is reshaping the world.
The benefits are impressive. Human health will benefit from new drugs, new treatment as well as from cleaner industrial processes. The bio-based economy will present new business opportunities and spur entirely new industries. Lower carbon emissions, more effcient use of land and less water needed for industrial use will lead to a more sustainable economy for all.
The fact is, biotech permeates almost every field known to man from food and pharmaceuticals to diagnostics and automation. Understanding and being a part of the life sciences that contribute to biotechnology and the bio-based economy are the essence of bio innovation.
The world of biotech changed in 2006 when two independent teams of researchers, one led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, and the other by James A. Thomson at the University of Wisconsin proved they could take normal adult human skin cells and turn them into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. These induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) can be developed into practically any type of cell in the body, like blood, heart or bone cells. Once considered impossible, the reality of taking a patient’s own cells, rebooting them to their nascent state, then using them to create new somatic (body) cells, opens the door to endless medical advances.
The hope is that one day, iPS cells can be used to replace damaged tissue or even grow new organs for transplantation, but in the meantime iPS cells are already transforming medicine.
Scientists at AstraZeneca in the UK are using human cardiac tissue, derived from iPS cells, to assess the heart’s reaction to various cardiotoxins. Given that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the world, the research can be used to test whether various drugs cause unintended harm to, “already compromised hearts”.
The scientists were able to view the living, beating cardiac cells in real time, thanks to an imaging system known as the CellVoyager®, developed by Yokogawa.
The CellVoyager® CV8000 is an entire cytological (cell) discovery system. It’s designed to help scientists observe cell behavior and make their findings faster and more eciently. An airtight incubator creates a suitable environment to keep cultured cells viable for long-term observation. Known as a high content analysis (HCA) system, it can carry out test sequences automatically, allowing researchers to quickly analyze large amounts of data. The system also includes CellPathfinder, an image analysis software, that uses machine learning algorithms to recognize and analyze patterns in the cell images.
The cell images themselves are remarkably clear, and the method of obtaining that clarity is a milestone in Yokogowa’s history.
Fluorescence microscopes, which are the oldest method of viewing live cells, have an inherent limitation to how sharp they can focus. These limitations can be overcome by using a series of spinning pinhole discs, to filter out the unwanted light and increase sharpness. Yokogawa’s Confocal Scanner Unit (CSU), which pioneered spinning disk confocal microscopy, began the company’s foray into the life science business over 20 years ago.
Since then, it has expanded its bio innovation and has begun to realize the promise of the bio-based economy as envisioned by Juan Enríquez when he said, “…we will be able to write out a life code, which will in turn allow us to program a cell to execute a desired function.” That is exactly what Yokogawa’s cell-based manufacturing, or “Bio cell as a Plant” is doing.
By treating a biological cell as a miniature industrial plant, each cell can create antibodies as would be required by the pharmaceutical industry. Yokogawa has a working prototype and research is ongoing. The same cell-based manufacturing could also be used to create many different biological products. Even lightweight and highly rigid new materials can be made using microbial fermentation and cell culture processes.
For a paradigm shift to biotechnology and a bio-based economy to occur, it will take the bio innovation of many players, and an awareness of the possibilities, but the benefits will be felt by all.
Founded in 1915, Yokogawa engages in broad-ranging activities in the areas of measurement, control, and information. The industrial automation business provides vital products, services, and solutions to a diverse range of process industries including oil, chemicals, natural gas, power, iron and steel, and pulp and paper. With the life innovation business the company aims to radically improve productivity across the pharmaceutical and food industry value chains. The test & measurement, aviation, and other businesses continue to provide essential instruments and equipment with industry-leading precision and reliability.