By Jeff Buchanan, Xconomy
Arne Thompson, an application support manager at Cellular Dynamics International, places a culture of manufactured human cells under a microscope. He points to a large screen above his head showing a close-up view of the lab dish contents. The cells are alive, pulsating in near perfect unison at a rate of about one beat per second.
With just a cursory glance at the screen, most people could probably infer these cells are related to the heart, given their rhythmic behavior. More precisely, they’re cardiomyocytes, the cells that constitute cardiac muscle.
Thompson takes out a beaker containing a red liquid, and draws a sample with an eyedropper. He explains that the compound he’s about to apply to the cells is in the same class as adrenaline, and behaves similarly.
“This might remind you of ‘Pulp Fiction,’” he says, referencing a scene from the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film in which a character is revived with a hypodermic needle after a drug overdose.
Thompson spatters some of the substance onto the cells and almost immediately they begin to palpitate. Eventually, the throbbing becomes more sporadic, as the compound wears off and the effect of a less temperate environment—in storage, these cells are kept at 98 degrees Fahrenheit—sets in.
Simply watching these heart cells thump together is captivating and instructive. But ask Chris Parker, executive vice president at Madison, WI-based Cellular Dynamics, and he’ll tell you the magic—and much of the money—is in determining how different types of cells react to particular substances. Read more …