Reviewing the agenda for the upcoming High-Content Analysis conference this month I’m very excited to that there is a dedicated track on phenotypic screening.
The impact of the well known analysis by Swinney and Anthony in 2011 has had time to sink in, helping to realign discovery efforts at many organizations and, of course, create a nice assortment of tools and technologies to support modern phenotypic screening strategies.
It is particularly satisfying to have been kicking around in this space long enough to recall the industrialization of the genome sequencing effort and to have been tantalized by the promise of “having complete knowledge of all human genes”, essentially access to every piece of the puzzle.
Of course that rapidly and logically evolved into high-throughput, industrialized efforts to identify therapeutic targets and subsequently drugs to modulate them. Looking back, as the Swinney analysis has done, there was obvious success there, but we now understand that you often “find what you screen for” and a target focused effort is a solid compliment to a discovery portfolio that must include phenotypic screening strategies. They have been shown to be champions for finding “first-in-class” medicines. We can better focus what we find, by what tools we choose to screen for it. For a nice discussion of the topic see www.phenotypicscreening.com
There are now great technologies to support phenotypic screening that include my favorites; High-Content Imaging and Flow cytometry. Both of these methods essentially miniaturize samples and can support the use of accurate cell model or even primary cells. Both anre now screening ready. And there have been powerful improvements for functional genomic biology that include next generation sequencing (NGS), improvements to RNAi/siRNA and now CRISPRs.
There is much potential, and work to be done. These collective technologies will support that by creating massive amounts of data, and genomics will interface with highly parallel cell biological experiments. Certainly there will be subsequent efforts with advanced analytical tools to cull out desired or novel phenotypes from the large data sets. Furthuring our quest to treat or cure disease. Sounds like fun.