Seahorse Bioscience

Seahorse Bioscience was founded in 2001 with the purpose of developing products to measure drug-induced metabolic changes. The company’s focus shifted, however, when it became clear that there was a need to update the standard technology for cellular bioenergetic measurement in diabetes and obesity research. Clark electrodes, or variations of Clark electrodes, have been used to determine cell oxygen consumption since the early 1950s. Radiometric assays can also be used to determine extracellular fluxes, which indicate changes in energy metabolism. Extracellular flux is the flow of substances between a cell and the cell media. By measuring this flow under various conditions, researchers can noninvasively determine the bioenergetic state and physics of cells. Although both methods achieve high sensitivity in measuring extracellular metabolic fluxes, radiometric assays require sample labeling, and both methods are labor intensive, low throughput and require a certain amount of sample.

To replace these methods, in 2006, Seahorse Bioscience introduced its first product, the fluorescence-based XF24, a benchtop system that simultaneously measures the rate of oxygen consumption (OCR), which indicates mitochondrial respiration, and the rate of acid efflux (ECAR), which indicates lactic acid formation, in a high-throughput 24-well microplate assay. Simultaneous OCR and ECAR measurements allow researchers to identify numerous changes in a cell’s bioenergetic state. For example, drug-induced changes to mitochondrial functions can indicate problems at early stages in drug discovery.

Steve Chomicz, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Seahorse Bioscience, told IBO: “We assembled a ‘Customer Design Team’ including 13 scientists and managers from Merck, J&J, GSK, AstraZeneca, BMS, Abbott and Harvard University to help guide our product development . . . This led to the commercialization of the XF24 Analyzer and early development of XF applications in metabolic disease, such as energy expenditure and fatty acid oxidation, where radiolabeling is commonly the only option.” Rather than pharma’s obesity and diabetes markets, academia has opened new application areas for the XF systems. One popular application is neurological disease studies. “It turns out that oxygen consumption measurements are the best way to profile mitochondria dysfunction in neurons, and our system is the only easy and reliable way to make this measurement,” said Mr. Chomicz. Unlike cancer applications, neurological applications were not initially a focus for the company. Cancer researchers are also now beginning to adopt XF technology.

New products released at the end of 2008 included the XF96, a 96-wellplate version of the XF24, and the XF24-3, a version of the XF-24 capable of measuring carbon dioxide. As for the future, the company plans to develop new applications, including measuring isolated mitochondria and tissue samples. Regarding instrument sales, Mr. Chomicz had nothing but good news: “I can tell you that our instrument sales tripled last year and are expected to grow again in 2009. Many of our customers own two or three units, or have upgraded from the 24-well to the new 96-well instrument.”

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