Laura Browne of Covalent Bonds sits down for a lively chat with Mandy Janssen and Sarah Dunn, both with NanoImaging Services. In a wide-ranging, highly-detailed conversation, they discuss the ins and outs of cryogenic electron microscopy (also known as cryo-EM) for nanoparticle characterization; from the particulars of their specific technology and processes and how they differ from other imaging methods. Join the conversation as Mandy and Sarah break down all the ways in which cryo-EM helps pharma and biotech companies develop future vaccines and therapeutics.
Laura Browne of Covalent Bonds is joined in conversation by Mandy Janssen and Sarah Dunn, both from NanoImaging Services (NIS). Mandy is the scientific group leader for nanoparticle characterization, and Sarah is a technical account manager.
The conversation begins with a discussion of cryogenic electron microscopy, or “cryo-EM”, which is the imaging technique utilized by NanoImaging Services. Cryo-EM is well known in structural biology, but is an emerging technology for biophysical characterization applications, where it is growing in awareness and popularity.
As they discuss the ins and outs of the technique and its applications, including the difference between using negative stain vs. cryogenic approaches. Laura asks why a client would be interested in cryo-EM specifically versus other characterization techniques such as dynamic light scattering.
Mandy explains that while there are other individual orthogonal techniques to characterize nanoparticles, none are as versatile or comprehensive as direct visualization by cryo-EM, and none are able to work with the same small sample size that cryo-EM utilizes. Traditional methods might be deployed to look at only one specific characteristic of the sample. Cryo-EM on the other hand, simultaneously assesses several characteristics of the sample, such as aggregation, purity, homogeneity, particle integrity, capsulation efficiency, particle size and morphology.”
Another benefit of this technology is just how fast it works. When the correct infrastructure is set up and a group of experts are working together, the answers that cryo-EM provides can be determined much more quickly. Otherwise, this technique can be quite time consuming.
Mandy goes on to affirm that imaging can be used at any point in any drug manufacturing stage. Anytime you scale up a process, any time you change reagents, or optimize your manufacturing process, or really any time you make any improvements to your project, cryo-EM plays a vital role in ensuring consistency or your product/particles.
This leads into a thorough and exhaustive description of the technique, and the ways in which it can be deployed to examine different samples. For example, the conversation explores the role of cryo-EM in visualizing and characterizing viral particles and vaccines to a nanometer scale.
As they go into greater and greater depth, at one point Laura asks if their clientele understand the potential answers that cryo-EM can provide, and what to look and/or ask for when partnering with NIS. Mandy and Sarah explain that there is a wide range of knowledge among their clients, from those with a deep understanding of the technique and what can be achieved with it, to those who need a great deal of expert guidance.
Sarah points out that this is the major benefit of working with a company like NIS. They engage in the process early via a first client meeting and develop a clear understanding of what a client needs, and how best to go about finding the answers.
And if a customer doesn’t know exactly what they want, NIS will bring their experience and expertise, and sometimes can arrive at an answer the customer didn’t even know they could look for.
To close out the conversation, Laura asks Mandy and Sarah why there is so much enthusiasm and excitement for cryo-EM. They answer that this excitement is spurred by a growing awareness of the technique, in part because of companies like NIS, but also its role in structural biology. She gives the recent and relevant example of how instrumental structural biology, aided by cryo-EM, was in helping scientists to quickly understand the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Mandy and Sarah expect that as the technique continues to be more accessible to a wider range of users, that excitement will only grow.