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Software that automatically assesses a drug’s effect on nerve cells

Potential new drugs for neurological disorders like Parkinson’s are being screened faster thanks to world-leading CSIRO software that automatically assesses a drug’s effect on nerve cells.

The image analysis software will be highlighted at BIO2005, the world’s largest biotechnology conference, on 19-22 June in Philadelphia, USA.

In the search for new pharmaceuticals, thousands of chemical compounds are screened to see if they’re effective and safe.

CSIRO’s software is being used to find new treatments for neurological disorders by measuring nerve cell changes faster and more thoroughly than other commercially available software – this means thousands of samples can be screened in a day.

The CSIRO software is now in software toolkits for several high content screening instruments, with German company Evotec Technologies announcing its CSIRO licence last month.

CSIRO’s Pascal Vallotton says that cell counting and allocating neurites to individual cells is traditionally done manually.

“Nerve cells have very complex branches, like a tree. For a person to work out which branches belong to which cells and then measure changes due to the drugs being tested is difficult and slow”, he says.

“Not only that, different technicians will usually give different answers”.

The CSIRO software can also be used in high content screening instruments because it can automatically analyse cell changes in an instant.

These instruments capture and process images of the cells, giving critical measurements that help pharmaceutical companies decide which compounds to investigate further.

“With this kind of resource at their fingertips, it will be easier to find treatments for diseases”, says Dr Vallotton.