Advanced cryo-EM sample support from MRC LMB to be added to the Quantifoil range

HexAuFoil® is a new all-gold cryo-electron microscope sample support technology that enables movement-free imaging to increase data quality and speed in biological structure determination for drug discovery and basic research.

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Quantifoil, world-leading supplier of electron microscopy (EM) sample supports, has signed an exclusive contract to add HexAuFoil® advanced cryo-EM supports to their range. These all-gold supports have been designed to help structural biology researchers in pharma, biotech and academia maximize data collection speed and resolution.

Over the last decade, the use of cryo-EM to study biomolecules has increased exponentially, and it can now produce truly atomic resolution structures. However, sample preparation is widely recognised as a significant problem slowing the routine use of the technique for drug discovery and basic research. Plunge-freezing of biological samples is required for cryo-EM analysis, but results in the build up of compressive strain in the ice. Release of this strain due to electron-beam induced local heating causes the image to blur.

Chris Russo and Katerina Naydenova of the world-leading MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, UK, created HexAuFoil® gold supports to overcome this issue. The <1 µm holes in the supports maintain a ratio of hole size to ice thickness that prevents strain building to a high enough level for these effects to occur. As a result, particles remain stationary and structures can be extrapolated to zero dose before the biomolecules are damaged by exposure to the electron beam. In Chris Russo’s own words, “By using these grids, your data is always better: bringing the movement to zero improves every image you take.”

An additional benefit is that the hexagonal hole arrangement has a high-packing density that leads to higher data collection rates and therefore increases the throughput of resolved structures which is important for rapid lead optimization.

Quantifoil joined SPT Labtech in 2019. Russell King, Head of Cryo-EM at SPT Labtech commented, “The improved performance offered by these supports will allow multiple structures to be resolved in a single day, cementing the role of cryo-EM at the heart of the drug discovery process.” HexAuFoil® grids have already been successfully trialled on a number of biomolecular samples, including the SARS-COV-2 RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, and will make a vital contribution to the development of novel therapeutics and basic research alike.  

Medical research charity LifeArc, which supports Medical Research Council (MRC) scientists in translating their innovative research towards the clinic, worked closely with Chris Russo and Katerina Naydenova to file applications for a patent and trademark for this technology, and led licensing negotiations. “LifeArc was instrumental in identifying Quantifoil as the ideal partner to commit the resources and expertise required to bring this high-quality product to the market as quickly as possible. The first HexAuFoil products will make an essential contribution to the continuously growing cryo-EM field, which the LMB leads,” said Georgia Gliki, Senior Business Manager, Technology Transfer at LifeArc.

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