IncubATRâ„¢ - the live cell monitor

IncubATR™—the Live-Cell Monitor was developed as a tool to study cells in near-real time by utilizing and improving on existing attenuated total reflection (ATR)-Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) technology. It functions as a specialized containment device, creating an environment that is conducive to live-cell growth, propagation, and longevity. When an FTIR spectroscope is attached to this device, cell response to any stimuli (e.g., nanoparticles, growth-factor agent, or bioagent) can be monitored and recorded. Before the IncubATR, the technology did not exist to study live-cell responses using FTIR in a manner that was not based, in part, on some speculation. Because the cells could not be kept alive long enough to observe their “true” response, results were inevitably retrieved from studies performed on cells that were fixed, dead, or had limited longevity.

The ability to study living cells in near-real time removes the guesswork and captures the whole cell dynamic in the testing environment. Applications of the IncubATR cover a broad range, from pharmaceutical testing, to biomolecular studies, to environmental impact studies involving biological exposures, and include many other potential uses in between. In national defense, this technology can be used for bio-threat identification and mitigation. As a stand-alone technology, this device is capable of significantly increasing the extent of highly valuable research that the scientific community can produce. It can be coupled to any FTIR spectrometer and, at an affordable cost of $12,000, the device stays in the price range of competing products, though it offers critical capability those products cannot.

The research and development that resulted in the IncubATR were provided by a team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Initially, it existed only as a conceptual invention report authored by the PNNL team. The team identified Simplex Scientific, LLC, as the right fit to produce a prototype of PNNL’s design. Through a partnership with Simplex and funding provided by Battelle (PNNL’s operating contractor), the concept was converted into a commercial product in approximately 20 months. Once a near-final prototype was ready, Battelle/PNNL applied for a patent on the technology on July 29, 2009. An exclusive license between Simplex and Battelle for the pending patents covering the technology was executed on October 1, 2009, just over two months later.
Award Year: 
Far West