High Content Screen (HCS) Instruments, Software and Consumables for Drug Discovery

In the last article we discussed the increasing use of HCS in drug discovery and its important applications in drug discovery. Here we will discuss the leading providers of hardware, software and consumable kits used in the high content screen.  One of the leading companies in this area for instrumentation and ready to use assay kits is Cellomics, currently part of Thermofisher Scientific.  Cellomics has automated the HCS for cell based assay platform by offering complete system. They offer HCS instrumentation- ArrayScanTM- informatics, cellular image analysis software, ready to use reagent kits, fluorescent reagents, engineered cell lines, and multiparametric assays. Cellomics constantly develops new software updates, new bioapplications and make sure that their customers can upgrade their system to the newest version, and application. They also provide excellent customer support and user forums. Their systems are used in most of the major pharma and biotech companies, which allows Cellomics to constantly develop new products in this niche market by adopting features requested by its users.

Another HCS instrument is GE Healthcare’s  IN Cell AnalyzerTM, which is an automated cellular imaging system which can be used for live or fixed cells. This platform can be integrated with laboratory automation modules for smooth and convenient operation.  This instrument can do either an end point assay or with available upgrade can do kinetic assays, transmitted light imaging, and slide handling. INCell Developer is the image analysis software which is a very flexible program for cellular analysis. This system is known for its sensitivity of imaging and flexibility for integration with other automation systems.

BD PathwayTM from BD Biosciences is a unique confocal imaging system with endpoint and kinetic analysis capabilities.  This system uses a spinning disk confocal device and uses white light source for illumination.  This system can acquire several images per second even when adding stimulants to the cells with its on stage liquid handling system. The environmentally controlled image chamber, with onstage fluid dispensing capability, and rapid rate of image acquisition, is an ideal system to screen time lapse observation of living cells. This system is very useful in the study for neurite outgrowth assay, cellular translocation and trafficking, morphology changes, endothelial tube formation assay in a fully automated or semi automated mode.

Evotech Technologie’s OperaTM is another confocal image analysis platform used in HCS.  It uses four lasers plus a Xenon lamp for fluorescent excitation. The image is acquired by multiple CCD cameras in parallel, enabling rapid multicolor image acquisition. Acapella TM is the software used for image analysis in this platform and can analyze images as it is acquired in a high throughput mode.  Some of the available programs are useful in analyzing cytotoxicity assays, translocation of signaling molecules, endocytosis, neurite outgrowth assays, etc.

Molecular Devices is another provider of HCS instrumentation as well as image analysis software. Their HCS system, Image Express is a high resolution CCD imager which can be expanded by adding different functional modules. Their powerful software suite Metamorph, controls all their HCS systems.


Novel reagents, fluorescent probes, assays kits for specialized assays optimized for HCS which provide improved quality of data are the driving the adoption of this HCS platforms in drug discovery.  One of the new developments in this area is the ability for single cell analysis, and being able to query multiple analytes per well. Some of the most commonly used fluorescent proteins for labeling probes are Green Fluorescent protein from GE Healthcare and Living Colors from Clontech, both of these are available to use with license.  Molecular probe, now a division of In Vitrogen sells a wide variety of fluorescent proteins for labeling various molecules.  Their popular Alexa Flour dyes are available as conjugation-ready dyes for labeling primary or secondary antibodies. Their Vibrant classes of dyes are optimized for HCS screen for apoptosis, cell proliferation, and cell viability assays.

These are some of the major companies operating in the HCS space for instrumentation, software and reagents.  Adoption of high content screen in drug discovery is growing rapidly, and additional players will emerge in the next few years with exciting new offerings in this niche market.

About James Maliakal

I am James Maliakal, writer of this blog and is with Pioneer Scientific. I have 12 plus years of experience working in the research lab in academic and leading life science companies. From my years of experience, I have designed and developed unique products which made my work a little easier and efficient in the lab. I have authored and published in peer reviewed journals. Pioneer Scientific is a leading manufacturer and distributor of innovative products, high quality laboratory instruments, and research tools. Contact me to know more.