Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pfizer might get incentives to keep research center in Richmond

Pfizer might get incentives to keep research center in Richmond
By Staff Reports | Times-Dispatch
Published: June 29, 2010

City officials are planning to offer incentives to Pfizer Inc. for keeping its research and development center with more than 300 jobs in Richmond.

Executives with Pfizer and city officials reiterated the company's decision to maintain the facility in Richmond at a news conference this afternoon.

Peter Chapman, Richmond's deputy chief administrative officer and interim director of economic and community development, said city officials will present a package of incentives to City Council for approval within a few weeks. He declined to provide financial details but described the incentives as "modest and measured."

He said Pfizer also would preserve a certain number of jobs as part of the deal.

Pfizer announced in May that it would end production at its Henrico County manufacturing plant in two to three years, eliminating about 550 local jobs.

Production of over-the-counter health products such as Chap Stick, Dimetapp, Robitussin, Anbesol and Preparation H will be moved elsewhere, but the company said it planned to keep its consumer research center on Sherwood Avenue in Richmond.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bode Technology Launches RFID System to Track DNA Evidence

Bode Technology, one of the world's largest DNA analysis firms, is piloting an RFID system it developed to manage DNA evidence as it passes through a supply chain, that includes storage and analysis in the laboratory. If the pilot—held at the company's Virginia lab—goes well, Bode Technology plans to deploy the system for 50,000 or more pieces of evidence annually as they move through the company's facility. To date, says Randy Nagy, Bode's sales and marketing VP, the system is reducing the time spent manually recording information about the specimens and their movement through the site, and provides a better, more accurate record of where each specimen has been, and who has been handling it.

The company is marketing the system, known as Bode-RFID, to law-enforcement agencies, for use in tracking physical evidence such as weapons, as well as DNA evidence. This, Nagy says, is being done in order to create and maintain an electronic record of a sample's movement from a crime scene through testing and storage, with data that could be used in a courtroom if the courts, for example, required proof of where the evidence had been, and when. The system is designed to be flexible (it can be set up to track evidence at specific locations chosen by a user, such as at a crime scene or storage area, or in off-site labs). What's more, it can act as a module to the existing Laboratory Information Management (LIM) system Bode sells, which stores and manages data regarding evidence for municipal, state and federal agencies.

When evidence is gathered, it is typically placed in a paper bag, box or DNA kit, and a unique reference number is assigned to that specimen, either printed in the form of a bar code on an adhesive label attached to the bag, or manually written on the bag using a marker. Approximately 40 percent of law-enforcement agencies currently employ bar-coded labels, while the rest utilize the manual, handwritten method. Often, a law-enforcement official creates a paper manifest with the same reference number, along with details related to that specimen. That manifest then accompanies the specimen when it is shipped to a forensics company, such as Bode, or to an in-house laboratory. The law-enforcement official at the crime scene—and, afterward, the agency or lab staff members handling the evidence—typically put their initials on the paperwork to provide a trail documenting which personnel worked with those samples. Multiple pieces of evidence are often recorded on a manifest, in order to link specimens from the same crime scene, such as several articles of blood-stained clothing. This system is time-consuming, however, and in the case of handwritten reference numbers, there is always the risk that an agency employee creating the manifest could transpose the numbers or otherwise make mistakes.

Another shortcoming with the manual system, according to Andrew Singer, Bode Technology's senior product manager, is that workers handling the sample may fail to add their initials to the evidence or paper manifest. Consequently, it is not always clear who has been handling a particular sample. In other cases, a piece of evidence can go unnoticed—in the trunk of a car, for instance—but if an RFID system were used at the time that evidence was collected, that type of error would be documented electronically, because a record would be stored in the back-end system indicating the date and time a specimen was gathered, along with any subsequent procedures that may have occurred, including receipt into storage or movement to a lab for testing.

Bode Technology watched RFID technology prices drop, and the demand for such a solution increase, until last year, when it determined that an RFID solution would be saleable. At that point, the firm developed Bode-RFID, which includes the company's existing LIM system, as well as its RFID-based software (developed in partnership with RFID Global Solution), to interpret RFID numbers as they are read, along with the location and time of read events—all of which is then stored in the LIM system. Bode-RFID will also provide hardware such as tags, readers and printers, according to customers' specific needs.

Bode Technology decided to first test the system at its own site in Virginia, in order to gather time-saving metrics. Last week, employees began tagging and tracking all new evidence coming from a handful of customers—government agencies that agreed to have their samples tagged and tracked while at the company's facility. Initially, only Bode Technology will use the RFID read data for its own purposes—to automate the tracking of each specimen's arrival, testing and storage, as well as who handled that evidence at any given time. However, that information could also be requested from the agencies in the event, for instance, that it is required for a trial.

When specimens arrive, they contain a printed reference number or a bar-coded ID number, along with information about the specimens printed as text on the paper bag or box in which they are contained. Bode's staff have several options for storing that data in the back-end system. In some cases, an agency sends an electronic manifest to the company prior to the samples' arrival. When that occurs, the electronic manifest provides Bode Technology with details regarding the sample, including the case number, a list of other pieces of evidence linked to that case, the agency that had sent it, and the specific testing required. Workers can then open the electronic manifest on the LIM system and enter information about the carrier (such as Federal Express) and the time and date of its arrival, or scan the carrier's bar-coded label on the item's packaging using a handheld Motorola MC9090 to create a record of that item being received.

In either case, an Avery Dennison ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID tag is then printed and encoded with a unique ID number on a Zebra Technology printer, and attached to the paper envelope or box in which the specimen is stored, thereby linking the RFID number with the sample it is attached to. If no electronic manifest is sent to Bode Technology before the sample's arrival, the company's staff inputs all of the information printed on the packaging or paper manifest accompanying the specimen, again encodes an RFID label and affixes it to the specimen's envelope or box. If the agency had used an RFID-enabled handheld device at the crime scene, attaching an RFID tag to a piece of evidence as it was gathered, and then reading the tag at the scene, Bode's employees could simply read that tag when the specimen arrives at the facility. Bode-RFID software enables a user to read the RFID tag, view an electronic manifest of the evidence, and then follow instructions in a drop-down box to indicate the event that is occurring, such as receiving the specimen from the carrier.

The sample is then moved into the evidence room, where it is stored while not being tested. As it passes through the doorway into the evidence room, it passes through a portal built by Jamison Door and containing an Impinj RFID reader. The ID number is transmitted to the LIMS on Bode's back-end server via a cabled connection, indicating it has arrived at the evidence room. LIMS can then determine the direction in which the tag is moving, based on its location and the data related to its last read. All information is automatically exchanged between the Bode-RFID software and the LIMS, Nagy says.

In addition, each employee wears an RFID-enabled badge, the ID number of which is also read, thereby indicating which employee brought a particular item into or out of the evidence room.

When an item is checked out by a DNA analyst, it again passes through the evidence room's portal and is then taken to the laboratory, where a desktop or handheld reader is used by the staff each time the evidence changes hands. If there are multiple bags of evidence connected with a specific case number, information about the additional evidence related to a specific item is also stored in the LIMS. All of these pieces of evidence are tied together in both the RFID software and the LIMS.

If a DNA analyst goes home for the day before finishing with a particular piece of evidence, he or she can take it to the temporary evidence room within the laboratory, where another RFID reader portal captures the ID numbers of the specimen's tag and the employee's badge, indicating when it was moved into the storage area, and by whom. This security measure, Nagy explained, is intended to track which individuals had the evidence when it came and went, as well as track which personnel had access to specimens stored in the room while it was there. The sample can then be removed again the next morning for further testing.

If Bode's staff require a specific piece of evidence, they can utilize the Motorola handheld reader that they carry into an evidence room or through the lab, and receive an audible alert when it comes within range of the ID number being sought, with the alerts getting louder and more frequent as the reader approaches the tag in question.

Prior to using the RFID system, Bode Technology's staff would manually input data in order to create a record of each item's arrival. The company maintained a written record of what occurred for such events as a lab worker analyzing the specimen, or an item being placed in the evidence room. Seeking specimens was more time-consuming, Nagy says, since they had to be searched for visually, without the aid of the handheld reader. "RFID will save a few seconds in completing each transfer," he states, "and records will be more legible, including the records provided to our customers, which will look more professional."

The electronic data stored for each specimen as it moves through Bode Technology's facility, Nagy says, "will better show who had access to all evidence during the time that it was at Bode. The expectation is that this will help improve the already high level of trust our customers have in Bode, and how we handle their evidence."

To date, Bode has incorporated the portal system only in its primary evidence room, as well as in the room within its lab used for temporary evidence storage. However, Singer says, other forensics companies or agencies could have the technology incorporated throughout their facilities, to track movement through the buildings and between departments.

Eventually, Nagy says, as the time-savings and improved accuracy are proven, Bode Technology hopes to begin tagging all evidence upon arrival, and then track each specimen as it moves through the evidence rooms and laboratory.

Although there are currently no agencies using this system, Nagy notes, Bode Technology is in discussions with many agencies about the prospect of doing so. This fall, as funding is granted to many agencies from the federal government to increase efficiency, Nagy hopes Bode will begin installing the solution with some of the company's customers. The system is commercially available now, he says, and can be used to track not only evidence, but also case files related to that evidence.

By Claire Swedberg
RFiD Journal

Monday, June 07, 2010

Biologists Tackle Cells' Identity Crisis

Ever since biologists learned how to grow human cells in culture half a century ago, the cells have been plagued by a problem of identity: many commonly used cell lines are not actually what researchers think they are.

Cell-line misidentification has led to mistakes in the literature, misguided research based on those results and millions wasted in grant money. Last year, Nature described the situation as a scandal.

But a universal system for determining the identity of cell lines may now be in view. Next month, a working group led by the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a nonprofit biological repository based in Manassas, Virginia, that stores 3,600 cell lines from more than 150 species, plans to unveil standardized protocols for verifying the identity of cultured cells using DNA fingerprinting. Labs worldwide — including repositories such as the ATCC itself — would use the protocols to determine whether a breast-cancer line, for instance, did come from breast tissue. The group also plans to create a public database, which the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, has agreed to host, to store DNA profiles of validated lines, allowing researchers to compare their own cell cultures with the ATCC's reference lines.

"I really think it's fantastic progress," says Rolf K├Ânig, director of the Tissue Culture Core Facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Misidentification can happen when faster-growing cells contaminate cultures of slower-growing cells in the same lab, or when researchers simply mislabel a specimen. One particularly robust cell line called HeLa, the first human cell line grown in the lab, has contaminated dozens of other lines without researchers' knowledge2, and there are many other examples where melanoma cells and ovarian cells, for example, have been mistaken for breast cells. In this month's Nature Reviews Cancer3, the ATCC consortium notes that one group has published around 20 papers since 1988 in which they incorrectly use a line called Int-407 as a model of normal intestinal cells.

The working group, composed of representatives from academia, government and industry, as well as from other cell repositories, advocates verifying cells' identities by comparing their DNA in regions where short stretches of three to five bases are repeated. Closely related cells are likely to have the same number of repeats; comparing these snippets at several different positions in the DNA sequence provides an overall estimate of relatedness.

Forensics applications, such as paternity testing and identifying crime victims, already use the technique. But cell lines often come from tumour tissue, in which DNA mutates at a higher rate than normal, making a 100% match between cells unlikely. Instead, the consortium suggests, cells that match at 75% or above can be considered to be the same. The group has now developed and tested a standardized procedure for extracting DNA from cells, doing the fingerprinting and interpreting the results.“Without policing, many investigators may not be motivated to do the necessary tests.”

Many researchers already use DNA fingerprinting to test their cell lines, notes Steve Oglesbee, director of the tissue-culture facility at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The ATCC and other repositories have already established fingerprints for some of the most commonly used lines. "We're recommending that investigators authenticate from the beginning, and do it at least at the very end, and if they feel the need even during the work process," he says. Having a universally accepted approach will allow different facilities to compare their cell lines with each other, he adds.

Fingerprinting has its limits, cautions Michael Johnson, a cancer researcher at Georgetown University in Washington DC. "Just because a cell fingerprints out as the same [as another cell] doesn't mean they will behave the same," he says, noting that a cell's properties can also be affected by the way it has been grown, the number of times it has been cultured anew and small genetic changes that wouldn't show up in a fingerprint test. One classic example, he notes, is an immortalized breast cell line called MCF10A, which can form organized hollow structures similar to those found in mammary tissue; MCF10A cells currently distributed by ATCC do not do this nearly as efficiently.

Cell Solution

He worries that, useful though it would be, a database such as the one ATCC proposes "in some sense creates a false sense of security" about the "official version" of a cell line. Being able to keep track of a cell line's lineage — where it was derived — could be as important as ascertaining its DNA fingerprint, he adds.

Others note that researchers will probably need an extra push to embrace the ATCC protocols. About half a dozen journals, including Wiley's International Journal of Cancer and journals published by the American Association for Cancer Research, have begun demanding that researchers authenticate their cell lines before they publish their work. And Nature has endorsed efforts to make verification easier and cheaper for researchers, pledging to require it once funders acknowledge the need and provide the necessary financial support1. "Without the policing by journal editors and granting agencies," says Gertrude Buehring, a virologist at the University of California, Berkeley, "many investigators may not be motivated to do the necessary tests to authenticate the cell lines used for their research."

Alla Katsnelson
Nature News