Cytocentric Visionaries: Michael Gilkey, CEO Trailhead Biosystems
Part Three: Let the Cells Lead the Way through the Matrix and Don’t Be Afraid of Change.
In part 2, we sit with Trailhead Systems CEO, Michael Gilkey, to discuss using the Xvivo system to research different cell types.
Here, we continue the conversation, talking about the leap that researchers have to take to leave their old way of doing things and invest in a system defined by the cells. This conversation was edited for length. Read our interview transcripts to learn why Trailhead Biosystems is focusing on cell-centered research.
Researchers, when they come to you, probably already have a lot invested in the way things have always been done in their lab. So your whole service is really predicated on a willingness to move away from everything a researcher has invested in already.
MG: One of the troubles we have is explaining how the system differs so greatly from what researchers normally do. We’re not calling anything you did previously wrong or bad. We’re just going to make it better. You’re going to be able to advance your research more efficiently.
How much does it cost researchers?
MG: A reasonably sized project is going to cost fifty thousand dollars. But what you get for that is going to be a multi-stage understanding of a protocol that you literally can’t do by hand. We can do start-up projects for less, but when you compare this cost to what researchers usually spend, that’s a postdoc for a year. I say give me the money and I’ll outcompete anything at that level by orders of magnitude on the amount of information and understanding that you’ll get.
NIH has responded very positively to us as a disruptive technology that is moving the field forward. So I would say anyone that wants to write grants with us, we’re more than happy to collaborate. But I’ll also say if you have the money for it, you will not be disappointed in the depth of information and understanding we will provide you.
How much do you think that rigorously defined media can affect scientific reproducibility and reducing the need for animal pre-clinical work?
MG: I think it’s huge. Anytime you have components of a media that are not defined, you’re going to have lot to lot variability and you don’t actually understand what’s controlling your cells. We want to understand each of those inputs.
What if you want to replace an expensive reagent or small molecule with a less expensive one? We could do that testing to evaluate whether these various components can be replaced without changing the biology of the cells. So for us it’s hugely important to understand every individual component and how it affects the cell.
If you’re taking a lot of the unknown out of your cell product, you’re also going to get higher, statistically-relevant data. The power of your studies is going to be better and you’ll see more distinct differences in control vs. experimental, and likely a lower number of animals needed for in vivo validation.
So what for you has personally been the most gratifying part of Trailhead?
MG: For me it’s the promise that we’re going to do a lot of good. Honestly, the work that we’re doing to create new cell therapies is going to help people. That’s what gets me so excited. I love that this is truly a platform technology that can affect any cell that you want. And let’s say you don’t want to do regenerative medicine, you can apply the same modalities to cancer.
We’re going to understand cell biology from a true systems developmental biology approach, and understand the changes that we’re making to the cells and why and how the different pathways are affected, and see why the various media components are needed and by how much.
These are the factors that are most important to your scale-up process. If those go out of whack your cell product is invalid. The potency is gone. So we really think we’re going to make a big impact in cell therapy and this could help a lot of people.
Anything else you would like to tell our readers?
MG: Don’t be afraid of change. Look for new methods that are going to distinguish your research. If anybody that wants to come to Cleveland to see the facility and some data, we’re more than happy to host people. We’ll show you why this is the future for cell culture.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We look forward to seeing what you and Trailhead do in the future.
About the Author
Alicia D Henn, PhD, MBA
Alicia Henn has been the Chief Scientific Officer of BioSpherix, Ltd for two years. Previously, she was a researcher at the Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling in Rochester, NY. Alicia obtained her PhD in molecular pharmacology and cancer therapeutics from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY and her MBA from the Simon School at University of Rochester in Rochester, NY.