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DR Rupert Ecker, Co-Founder & Co-Owner, TissueGnostics GmbH

We can send robots to Mars. We have machines that navigate the barren surface of another planet with ease, collecting samples, capturing breathtaking images, and transmitting vital data back to Earth. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to contemplate the awe-inspiring technology we possess right at our fingertips, isn’t it? Yet, when it comes to biomedical research, we’re still stuck in the Stone Age, using archaic methods that are slow, inefficient, and often inaccurate. This is precisely what a pioneering cell biologist, Dr Rupert Ecker realized while pursuing his Master’s degree at the University of Vienna some 30 years ago. He was tasked with studying cell cycle regulators, specifically cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK), in renal carcinoma cell lines using an outdated MS-DOS-based image analysis system. And the only way to do so was to painstakingly annotate the shapes of nuclei and cytoplasm in cultured cells. For weeks, he drew circles with the mouse from early morning till late evening, until his ligament became inflamed. But finally frustrated and exhausted, he approached his boss and exclaimed, “We are sending robots to Mars, which autonomously navigate on the surface of another planet, but we in biomedical research here sit down and just manually draw circles, like Stone Age people!” To his surprise, his boss simply looked at him and replied, “Well, change it!”

This “historic” moment in the autumn of 1994 marked the beginning of a development that led to the establishment of TissueGnostics, the first company to offer a commercially available solution for Tissue Image Cytometry. Nine years later, after obtaining a Master’s and a PhD degree, Dr Ecker co-founded TissueGnostics in April 2003 with its corporate headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Over the years, the company has grown into a global network of subsidiaries and offices spanning the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, China, Taiwan, India, and Australia.

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Offering Streamlined Solutions for Biomedical Imaging and Image Analysis

Despite our remarkable strides in medical research and treatment, the challenges we face in fighting some of the most deadly ailments, such as cancer, continue to persist. The key to winning this fight lies in our ability to detect and analyze individual cells within a tissue sample with highest precision in order to understand the molecular mechanisms of disease formation and progression on the cellular and sub-cellular level. And that’s where tissue cytometry proves to be a game-changer. In the world of biomedical research, flow cytometry has long been a gold standard for analyzing cellular sub-populations with single-cell accuracy. But despite its popularity and usefulness in liquid tissues like blood and cell cultures, it falls short when it comes to analyzing solid tissue samples. The majority of the human body, however, is solid. Thus, scientists must enzymatically dissolve and solubilize pieces of tissue in order to obtain at least a few quantitative data, which leads to the loss of histological context and potential changes in cellular phenotypes.

So, there was a need for a new revolutionary technology that could analyze tissue sections with single-cell accuracy while preserving the histological context. This is where TissueGnostics (TG) came in. An innovative SME with Austrian roots and global impact, TG developed the first commercially available tissue image cytometry system, TissueFAXS, which provided a FACS-like workflow for tissue sections in both brightfield and fluorescence samples. This technology platform represented a major milestone in the field of biomedical research, allowing scientists to perform “contextual tissue cytometry” and obtain precise data while preserving the crucial histological context of the tissue. “While spatial biology has become a major trend in biomedical research over the past five years, TissueGnostics customers have been applying this concept for over 20 years using the company’s Image Cytometry Suite (TissueQuest, HistoQuest, StrataQuest), which they refer to as ‘contextual tissue cytometry’,” opines Dr Ecker.

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Creating A “WOW Effect” For Its Customers

Today, TG’s product portfolio boasts an impressive array of microscopic applications, spanning from standard brightfield scanning (HE and IHC) to the wide field and confocal fluorescence, multispectral microscopy, live cell imaging, multiplexing technologies, and (Expansion-Based) Super Resolution. Supporting these applications is the company’s software, which ranges from cellular and sub-cellular pattern recognition to Machine Learning-based classification and Deep Learning-empowered data mining.

When presenting their products, TG’s application specialists frequently receive feedback from clients such as “mindblowing”, “awesome”, or simply “wow!” And, this is precisely what TG’s R&D team strives for —to create a “WOW effect” for its customers. Even data-oriented scientists are moved by seeing the Precision that inspires on their own samples! To date, over 2400 scientific studies from more than 60 countries across six continents have benefitted from TG’s technology, with publications appearing in some 800 peer-reviewed journals. These studies range from basic research to clinical implementation, and even groundbreaking research that would not have been possible without TG’s technology. Customer support is a point of pride for TG, with regular testimonials highlighting the team’s outstanding and unique support offerings. “Precision that Inspires’– this is not only a marketing slogan; it is an attitude towards our profession. The entire team is dedicated to providing products and services that meet our customer’s as well as our own expectations,” affirms Dr Ecker.

Developing Solutions for Scientists with Scientists

Founded by scientists, TissueGnostics is dedicated to providing solutions for scientists. Since its inception, the company has established a strong network of collaborations with academic institutions. In fact, it has contributed to numerous national R&D projects in Austria, partnered with seven major EU-funded Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks and embarked on two ambitious collaborative projects with Australian universities. Notably, these collaborations have led to the conversion of many partners into loyal customers.

TG not only sponsors or exhibits at scientific conferences but also actively participates in and even organizes its own specific scientific conferences and symposia. These events are usually held in collaboration with clients and partners, with the aim of providing a platform for scientists to exchange knowledge and ideas. “The best way to develop solutions for the biomedical research continuum that provides products closest to the real market needs is to develop these products with the users, i.e. the scientists – our founders and customers,” adds Dr Ecker.

Set to Explore New Horizons

Today, TissueGnostics has come a long way since its inception, transforming from a fledgling start-up focused on securing funding and expanding its reach globally to a major player on the international stage. With a proud history spanning two decades, the company has made significant strides in the field of tissue analysis, providing cutting-edge solutions to researchers and clinicians worldwide. In the year 2016, TissueGnostics achieved a glorious feat by winning the first prize in the coveted “image analysis” category at the International Slide Scanner Contest, which was organized by the esteemed Department of Pathology at the Charité Berlin in Germany. This accolade marked a momentous milestone in TissueGnostics’ journey to establish itself as a global leader in the realm of scientific research and diagnostics.

Now, as TissueGnostics celebrates its 20th anniversary, the company is set to explore new horizons, with plans to expand its technological prowess and diversify its markets. Amid the excitement surrounding the anniversary year, TissueGnostics is taking a moment to reflect on its rich history and pivotal milestones. The company is venturing into new territories, from South America and Africa to India and Australia while also branching out into the exciting field of material science. With an unwavering commitment to precision and innovation, TissueGnostics remains a trusted partner for cutting-edge research, inspiring scientists worldwide with its comprehensive suite of automated microscopy, tissue and image cytometry, and high-end image analysis solutions. In the words of Dr Ecker, “We are and continue to be the “one-stop shop for automated microscopy, tissue and image cytometry as well as high-end image analysis in scientific research – at a Precision that Inspires!”