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Dainippon Screen Mfg Co Ltd introduced a high-speed 3D cell scanner at JASIS 2013, an exhibition of analytical and scientific instruments, which took place from Sept 4 to 6, 2013, in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

The scanner, "Cell3iMager," can quickly measure and analyze the increase and transformation of cancer cells cultured on a culture plate without using a reagent. Dainippon Screen launched the scanner in July 2013.

"This is our first step toward an entry into the life science field," the company said. "We have a policy of creating a different axis than that of semiconductor manufacturing equipment (the company's main business)."

In the field of cancer drug discovery research, researches using a method that three-dimensionally cultures cells (3D culturing), which is considered similar to an actual biological environment, have been advancing fast. According to Dainippon Screen, the size of its market was US$60 million in 2011, but it is expected to grow by about 350% to US$274 million by 2016.

However, in many test methods using 3D culturing, cancer cells are cultured and, then, examined by adding a reagent such as a pigment. Those methods take time. Also, it is not possible to keep examining the same cell.

On the other hand, the 3D cell scanner can determine whether the number of 3D cells is increasing and examine their shapes without a reagent. Because the scanner does not require a reagent, it does not kill cancer cells, making it possible to continuously examine the effect of a medicine by using the same cell.

"We realized the scanner by applying our own image processing technology," Dainippon Screen said.

For the development of the scanner, the company had tested the usability of the scanner for about two years with help from the MD Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas, which is a world-famous cancer research institute, and the Nagahama Institute of Bio-Science and Technology.