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Label-free: The way to be?
December 2009
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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SAN DIEGO—The advent of label-free technologies (LFT) has aroused so much interest in the research arena that the Society for Biomolecular Sciences (SBS) hosted a symposium on the topic Nov. 2-3 here. The symposium, attended by the companies that appear on this page in addition to a wide range of biophysical scientists and biologists, was designed to address interest in plate-based label-free technologies (PBLFT) as well as other LFT such as NMR, X-ray, SPR, MS and other emerging LF technologies that are being used to address some of the current challenges the pharma, biotech and drug discovery industries.  
 
According to Dr. Lance Laing, director of bioapplications at SRU Biosystems and a program chair for the symposium, LFT is gaining traction in the market because of the rise in interest of primary cells, more challenging protein targets and the desire to translate results between the two.
 
"A platform that may offer results for many disease program cases receives high interest," Laing says. "Historically, LFT has been applied to characterization of protein-protein interactions, particularly in the antibody or immune-derived protein characterization applications where accurate binding affinity and kinetics are important and labels are either not economical or risk perturbing native interactions. More importantly in the present case, concerning plate-based LFT (PBLFT), there is always a market for tools that allow scientists to do work that they are otherwise unable to complete, especially if there is some economic advantage as well."  
 
In fact, Laing says that although adoption rates for LFT have been quite high, they might be higher except for the current economic climate in pharma and biotechs and the effect on capital equipment budgets.
 
"The response from the audience was above expectations for the most part; they were more interested and learned more than they expected," Laing adds.  
 
Philippe Mourere, director of marketing and sales for Caliper Life Sciences, says the symposium was a "great opportunity" for Caliper, which sees LFT as "an evolving and flexible option."
 
"LFT will give you a fairly complex response and content-rich information," Mourere says. "Your challenge as a drug discoverer is to understand the information you are getting from the screening. This can be done using the conventional arsenal of assays. If you get a complex signal to analyze, you can run additional assays. If you try to understand the specificity of a drug—if your drug is affecting a particular receptor in your label-free assay—what you will get is an answer for the specificity of your drug. You will also see how other targets will be affected by the treatment on the cell. Understanding off-target affects helps to predict potential side effects. It can also be used to potentially uncover new targets for a drug candidate."
 
Nance Hall, vice president and general manager of the Automation and Detection Solutions business at PerkinElmer, notes that PerkinElmer doesn't believe that LFT will replace the technology that is currently available, but rather, "will complement the present technologies that are out there."  
 
"Working without labels can accelerate research by minimizing false hits and eliminating false positives and negatives and some of the hindrances researchers typically experience in their analysis," Hall says. "LFT enables researchers to analyze what they want to be analyzing, not what we call 'the junk.'"  
 
SBS is already planning a future LFT symposium based on the success of the November program.

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