In the second episode of the NanoImaging Services podcast, Laura Browne enjoys a highly informative chat with NanoImaging’s Chief Scientific Officer, Giovanna Scapin. Over the course of their discussion, Giovanna breaks down the development of cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM), the recent massive technical breakthroughs in the field, the limitations and roadblocks that still limit the field, and the impact of cryo on the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
In the latest episode of the NanoImaging Services (NIS) Podcast, Laura Browne of Covalent Bonds is joined by Chief Scientific Officer Giovanna Scapin for an in-depth discussion of the field of cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and NIS’s prominence within that field.
Laura begins the episode by asking Scapin for a refresher course on what cryo-EM is and what sort of applications it is utilized for. Scapin gives a summary explanation of how cryo-EM works, along with a quick history lesson on the technology’s meteoric rise in prominence over the last ten years, a rapid evolution that Scapin credits to constantly improving microscope and camera capabilities.
Within this field, NIS shines “everywhere”, per Scapin. “You can use cryo-EM for the entire pipeline and it will provide information, useful information, throughout the entire process.”This form of imaging is especially critical to pharmaceutical companies for the development of new medicines and drugs.
But this prompts Laura to ask why, if cryo-EM is so useful and comprehensive, is it still under-utilized and under-known?
This leads into a conversation about the limitations of the field, which Scapin links to human conditions rather than limitations of the technology itself. Cryo-EM remains an expensive technique, with not enough specialists with the proper training and experience for it to be as widespread and well-known as it perhaps should be.
While Scapin suggests that within 3 to 5 years, there may be enough specialists to fill demand, she admits that she would have guessed the same thing 3 to 5 years ago and yet there continues to be a shortage of experts who know cryo-EM and know how to use it, which only makes an organization like NIS all the more valuable.
From there, Laura and Giovanna discuss NanoImaging’s strengths within the field of cryo-EM, from their resources and expertise across numerous fields to the IP protection they offer to all their customers.
As Scapin says, “Another reason why they come to us is that we, uh, provide IP production. So we don't own any of the data. We don't claim ownership on any of the data, and we don't share anything we generate for the clients.”
As an example of cryo-EM’s capabilities, Scapin describes the method through which this imaging method was used to evaluate what Laura describes as a “novel cocktail” of antibodies for the treatment of COVID variants.
Laura than shifts the topic to a paper written by Immunome that mentioned NanoImaging Services but also name-checked a number of other cryo-EM providers. Scapin explains what distinguishes NIS from their competitors: A much longer history in the field, much more robust team of experts and specialists, and more and better equipment.
The paper’s authors asserted that their original data set exhibited a strong preferential orientation of spike protein. Laura asks Scapin what NIS’s role was in addressing this challenge, prompting a detailed explanation from Scapin.
“We did have to apply a different grid procedure,” Scapin explains. “We applied a different vit modification protocol and we ended up collecting a tilted data site and then merging all of it in order to get a very high resolution for the part that they were interested in.”
Giovanna then talks at length about the ins and outs of the Immunome paper and how it demonstrated the capacity for cryo-EM to do a lot of things with the antibody antigen.
With so much rapid progress in the field, with many innovations driven by the necessity of COVID-related research, Laura asks Scapin what the future looks like for cryo-EM and NIS.
Scapin describes a future in which the schedule from preclinical development to clinical tests to delivering topatients only gets faster and faster, with NIS offering services at every step of the way. “We want to know how this thing works to the very last steps in the process development.”
After a deconstructing of how cryo-EM played an important role throughout the COVID pandemic, the talk wraps up by moving back to discussing NIS in specific. NIS has three labs, with two on the west coast and third in Massachusetts.
As a final question, Laura asks Scapin to sum up in one sentence why NIS should be the choice for a prospective customer looking to have cryo-EM imaging created.
Scapin responds, “Because we are, I think we are the only provider that was born to provide cryo-EM services and we are highly specialized in cryo-EM service, and with all that comes with the specialization in, cryo-EM services. So we know cryo-EM at every possible level.”