The two Frankfurt, Germany-based companies have agreed to cooperate in developing and marketing LIVC Technologies' proprietary light-induced voltage clamp (LIVC) system which allows ion channels to be switched on or off simply by exposing the cells to light. Ion channels are pore-forming proteins that play a critical role in many biological processes including nerve impulses and immune system signalling. As such they have been recognised as critical therapeutic targets and have been implicated in many physiological roles for drug safety testing. Ion channel research has led to several Nobel Prizes, most recently in 2003, where the award was given to two US scientists for their studies into the physico-chemical properties of ion channel function. Despite the importance of the channels, HT screening of ion channels has proved somewhat troublesome and IonGate and LIVC hope this technology will help to remove many of these difficulties. According to Dr Bela Kelety, IonGate Biosciences' director of Research and Development, the companies will be looking to develop two different types of assays using the LIVC technology. The first will take a 'traditional' approach and use fluorescence detection used in many assays run in the pharmaceutical industry. The second would be to combine the LIVC technology with IonGate's SurfE2R (Surface Electrogenic Event Reader) technology, which measures the activity of cell transporters and ion pumps by detecting electric charges. "Fluorescence detection assays give high quality data, but because the SurfE2R technology measures direct electrical changes, the data quality is even higher," said Dr Kelety. While the electrodes used for the SurfE2R technology are able to give very accurate results for many transporter screening applications, they cannot be used in combination with an external voltage, such as those used in patch clamping to study individual ion channels within cells. The company claims the LIVC technology avoids this problem by incorporating a light activated ion channel into the cell lines of interest, allowing the ion channels in cells to be switched on or off simply by flicking a light switch. "The investigation of voltage gated channels is mainly conducted using fluorescent dyes which have to be activated by depolarising the cells, this is usually done using potassium, which eventually kills the cells," said Dr Kelety. "The use of these light gated channels means that you simply need to shine a light on the cells to depolarise them, this gives you better information about the ion channel properties and allows repeated measurements at increased speeds." This technique also has the added bonus that the cells can be kept at physiological conditions, allowing ion channel function to be studied in conditions as close as possible to those found in living organisms, the company said.