Bringing Cutting Edge Technologies to Academic Researchers Through the Academic Access Program

This post was written by guest blogger Iain Ronald, Director Academic/Government Market Segment at Promega.

My back story is similar to most of you reading this blog, high school education, undergraduate degree then onto a postgraduate degree. However, over 25 years ago during my undergraduate study, I was fortunate enough to work in the lab of Professor Ray Waters studying DNA damage in S. cerevisiae as a model organism and at the time PCR was cutting-edge technology and the PCR license was in full effect. However, there was one company that was fighting the good fight to democratize PCR for the good of the scientific community, Promega.

I became enamored with Promega then, and the next steps in my career were taken with a view to working at this company who, for all intents and purposes, seemed to really care about the progression of science beyond self-aggrandizement.

Now that I am working at Promega in a position where I can bring benefit to our academic community, I have pondered what I can do to equal the disruptive attitude I observed in this company all those years ago when they were fighting the then “big tech” for the enablement of the scientific community. 

Reporter bioassays are one of hte many offerings of the academic access program.
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Toxicity Studies in Organoid Models: Developing an Alternative to Animal Testing

Alternatives to animal testing have long been explored when it comes to studying the safety of various chemical compounds for use in food, medicine and cosmetics. With the advent of three-dimensional (3D) cell culture to create organoids, more relevant human organoid models are being explored as one way to provide safe and effective compound testing while minimizing the need for testing in animals. The international project Physiologically Anchored Tools for Realistic nanOmateriaL hazard aSsessment (PATROLS) led by the Swansea University Medical School aims to establish a battery of innovative, next-generation safety testing tools that can more accurately predict the effects of engineered nanomaterial (ENM) exposure in humans and the environment.

One project being researched by Samantha Llewellyn, a research assistant at Swansea University, is developing predictive physiologically relevant 3D liver models for ENM safety assessment. By having a model to evaluate realistic ENM exposures, a researcher can study liver function, hepatic metabolism and microtissue cell viability after acute (24 hours) or prolonged (several days) exposure. A microtissue model for assessing ENM hepatotoxicity needs to mimic primary hepatocytes and be amenable to assays used to test cell viability and metabolism.

The right tools for testing this 3D liver model include the bioluminescent-based CellTiter-Glo® 3D Viability and P450-Glo® Assays. When creating organoids, having reagents that can penetrate to the center of the dense and complex 3D liver spheroids is important so that the cell viability readout encompasses the entire microtissue. The CellTiter-Glo® 3D Viability Assay accomplishes this task, providing accurate assessment of 3D tissue cell health. Measuring cytochrome P450 (CYP450) activity is necessary for studying liver function. The P450-Glo® Assays have the flexibility to assess CYP450 activity while preserving the liver spheroids; thus, researchers can gather more data from a single experiment.

The importance of Samantha Llewellyn’s research as part of PATROLs is establishing a 3D liver model that could evaluate realistic ENM exposures and reduce the need for animal testing. Bioluminescent assays for assessing cell health and liver enzyme function are necessary to reach this goal.

luciferse technologies are allowing researchers to develop predictive 3D organoid models for ERM testing

To learn more about the last 30 years of bioluminescent innovations and the discoveries they’ve enabled, please visit our 30th anniversary celebration page.

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Improving SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Detection with Bioluminescence

3D artistic rendering of the Lumit SARS-CoV-2 antibody test

Science is the practice of figuring out how things work and then using that knowledge to further our understanding or to create tools that can solve problems facing the world. Bioluminescent tools and assays are examples of science doing all these things. Bioluminescence is the light-yielding (luminescence) chemical reaction that is used by many lifeforms. When fireflies flicker in the twilight, they are using bioluminescence to flash on and off.  Chemically, bioluminescence happens when an enzyme called luciferase acts on a light-emitting compound, luciferin, in the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), magnesium and oxygen.

For scientists, bioluminescence can serve as a tool to help them understand many cellular functions. Since few animal or plant cells produce their own light, there is little to no background signal (light) to be concerned about. This lack of background means that all light coming from the sample can be measured. In fact, bioluminescence is often a preferred tool for scientists because it does not require an external light source or special filters, which are required for fluorescence-based technologies.

Promega scientists have developed bioluminescent tools and assays to support leading edge scientific research for decades, beginning in 1990 with the Luciferase biosensor technology based on firefly luciferase. Luciferase is a wonderful tool for studying how enzymes work because its output (light) is so easy to measure: samples are placed into a special instrument called a luminometer, and the amount of light being produced (Relative Light Units) is recorded. Bioluminescence technology can be configured to measure a variety of cellular biology, ranging from cell health to enzyme activity down to the specific event of turning a gene on or off. The advent of new techniques for genetic manipulation, along with an enhanced understanding of bioluminescence and the discovery and engineering of better luciferases, enables science to use bioluminescence in even more unique ways.

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Awakening From Despair to Awe: 2021 International Forum on Consciousness

Banner for the International Forum on Consciousness 2021

Each year, the International Forum on Consciousness draws thought leaders from around the world to explore important, and often challenging, topics related to the exploration of consciousness. The theme for this year, Consciousness of Connection: Awakening from Despair to Awe, is an invitation to broaden curiosity about connection and take a closer look at the variety of connections that we forge in our lives.

Participants will examine the kinds of connections that transcend our individual selves and reach our inner desire to be part of an interconnected world, perhaps to transform our current sense of the individual, community, and society, from independent to interdependent. More specifically, the Forum will examine connection across the primary aspects of our lives with:

  • Self, and the many selves in our amazing neural networks
  • Others, and the multiple communities we intersect
  • Nature, and the breadth of life forms that surround us
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Growing Through Sustainability Sensibilities

Inside Kornberg Center at our Fitchburg, WI campus.

We recently announced the opening of our newly constructed Kornberg Center research and development facility on our Fitchburg, WI campus. While we grow our company through new facilities around the globe, it is vitally important that we expand our sustainability efforts along the way. We are committed to preserving and improving our environment for a thriving future.

Prioritizing Sustainability with Best Practices from Around the World

Incorporating sustainability best practices from around the world is key to our long-term planning. Each new Promega facility is designed to meet ambitious sustainability objectives, and innovations incorporated in one project inform the next. We also align projects to meet United Nations Global Compact Sustainable Development Goals. All of our locations collectively contribute to minimizing the effect we have on our environment.

Here are a few of many sustainability initiatives Promega practices around the world:

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Promega Biotech Ibérica Earns Recognition for Contributions to the COVID-19 Pandemic Response in Spain

Small- and medium-sized companies are critical to the Spanish economy. During 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic made business difficult for many of these companies, yet they have demonstrated strength and resourcefulness and have led the pandemic recovery in Spain in many ways. Recently, Promega Biotech Ibérica was recognized with a Madrid Community SME (small- and medium-sized business) Award along with 15 other companies. The awards were presented by Manuel Giménez, Minister of Economy, Employment and Competitiveness of the Madrid Region, Andres Navarro delegate director of La Razón, and Francisco Marhuenda, director of La Razón. As part of the award, Promega Biotech Ibérica General Manager, Gijs Jochems, was interviewed about the award and Promega’s work in the region.

Gijs Jochems, General Manager of Promega Biotech Ibérica accepts the Madrid Community SME Award.
Gijs Jochems, General Manager of Promega Biotech Ibérica accepts the Madrid Community SME Award.

According to Gijs Jochems, General Manager of Promega Biotech Ibérica, while Promega Corporation is an American multinational company, it remains privately held, which offers a great deal of flexibility to the subsidiaries to adapt to local needs. It also allows the company to place increased emphasis on employee well-being (critical during the pandemic), reinvest profits in research and development, and work to mitigate the impact of company activities on the environment. All these business practices reflect a long-term vision of sustainable business growth.

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Celebrating 30 Years of “Glo-ing” Research

This post is written by guest blogger, Amy Landreman, PhD, Sr. Product Manger at Promega Corporation.

In December of 1990, Promega first discussed the use of firefly luciferase (luc) as an emerging reporter technology in the article, Firefly Luciferase: A New Tool for Molecular Biologists. At the time, the gene coding chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (cat)  was most commonly used by researchers, but it was thought that the bioluminescent properties of firefly luciferase, extreme sensitivity and rapid simple detection, could make a significant difference in how molecular biologists tackled their research. Several months later, the first firefly luciferase reporter vectors and detection reagents became available as products, making this new technology more broadly accessible to the research community. Today firefly luciferase is no longer a “new tool”, with it and many other bioluminescent reporter technologies being standard elements of the modern research toolbox.

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2020 Promega Award for Biochemistry Recognizes Viral Research, Protein Engineering

Promega Award for Biochemistry image

The 2020 Promega Award for Biochemistry ceremony was a bit different this year. Promega Beijing typically announces the award recipients in a ceremony at the biannual meeting of the Chinese Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (CSBMB). As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 conference was moved online. Despite the unusual circumstances, Promega Beijing held a virtual ceremony to grant the award to Dr. Peng Chen and Dr. Haitao Yang.

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Rapid COVID-19 Testing, International Collaboration, and a Family Favor

When the COVID-19 pandemic descended on New York in March 2020, Christopher Mason, PhD, knew he was in a unique position to contribute. The Mason Lab specializes in sequencing and computational methods in functional genomics – valuable expertise for addressing an emerging infectious disease. Within days, Chris and his team were helping to analyze patient data, as well as developing new tests and detection methods for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

3d model of coronavirus covid-19

The Mason Lab developed protocols for a simple COVID-19 detection test that requires less time and equipment than common PCR methods. Their subsequent preprint detailing these methods quickly gained widespread attention, and Chris found himself fielding an endless stream of questions and requests.

During the frenzy, Chris received a call from his older brother. Cory Mason is the mayor of Racine, Wisconsin, the brothers’ hometown.

“He said he saw me tweeting about our new test,” Chris says. “Then he asked me, ‘What if we set it up here in Wisconsin?’’

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Emergency Use Authorization: The What, the Why and the How

This blog is written by guest blogger, Heather Tomlinson, Director of Clinical Diagnostics at Promega.

Finding safe and effective treatments for human diseases takes time.  Medication and diagnostic tests can take decades to discover, develop and prove safe and effective.  In the United States, the FDA stands as the gold-standard gatekeeper to ensure that treatments and tests are reliable and safe. The time we wait in review and clearance means less risk of ineffective or unsafe treatments.

And yet, in a pandemic, we are behind before we even start the race to develop diagnostic tests, so critical for understanding how an infectious disease is spreading. That is when processes like the FDA’s fast track of Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) are critical. Such authorization allows scientists and clinicians to be nimble and provide the best possible test protocol as quickly as possible, with the understanding that these protocols will continue to be evaluated and improved as new information becomes available. The EUA focuses resources and accelerates reviews that keep science at the fore and gets us our best chance at staying safe and healing.

The Maxwell 48 RSC Instrument and the Maxwell RSC Total Viral Nucleic Acid Isolation Kit are now listed as options within the CDC EUA protocol.

For scientists working around the clock, the FDA’s EUA process is ready to review and respond. Getting an EUA  gives clinical labs a very specific and tested resource to guide them to the tools and tests to use in a crisis.

Typically the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will develop the first test or protocol that receives FDA EUA in response to a crisis like a pandemic.  For COVID-19 the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel received FDA EUA clearance in early February. This is the test protocol used by the public health labs that work with the CDC and test manufacturers around the world.

Throughout a crisis such as the current pandemic, scientists continually work to improve the testing protocols and add options to the EUA protocols. This enables more flexibility in the test protocols. Promega is fortunate to play a part of the CDC EUA equation for diagnostic testing. Our GoTaq® Probe 1-Step PRT-qPCR System is one of a few approved options for master mixes in the  CDC qPCR diagnostic test,  and now our medium-throughput Maxwell 48 Instrument and Maxwell Viral Total Nucleic Acid Purification Kit  have been added to the CDC protocol as an option for the RNA isolation step as well. These additions to the CDC EUA means that laboratories have more resources at their disposal for the diagnostic testing which is so critical to effective pandemic response.

The Emergency Use Authorization provides the FDA guidance to strengthen our nation’s public health during emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. The EUA allows continual improvement of an authorized protocol through the collaborative efforts scientists in all academia, government and industry to identify and qualify the most reliable technologies and systems, giving labs more flexibility as new products are added as options.

Dr. Tomlinson is the Director for the Global Clinical Diagnostics Strategic Business Unit at Promega Corporation with over 15 years of experience in clinical diagnostic test development. She is responsible for leading the team that drives strategy in the clinical market for Promega. Her background is in infectious disease diagnostic testing, with a focus on HIV drug resistance and evolution.  Her recent work has been in oncology companion diagnostic test development.  Heather has is an accomplished international presenter, delivering conference presentations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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