‘Cell painting’ highlights responses to drugs and toxins

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Science  20 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 877-878
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6288.877

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Just as a careful watcher can gauge the emotional state of a person by noticing a blush or other visual cues, scientists are becoming adept at discerning the state of a cell with the help of molecular "paints" that highlight more than a thousand cellular features together. By using computerized image processing to assess multiple clues at once, the technique can pick up subtle changes in cell function in response to drugs, toxins, and other factors. Last week cell biologists, software engineers, image analysts, and machine learning experts met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a "hackathon" to refine this relatively new approach, generically known as morphological or image-based profiling. Their goal is to streamline and standardize the process, which they argue could cut the costs of drug development and speed discoveries in basic biology.