Editorial Article: How collaboration and communication drives quality in protein production

Dr. Supriya Shivakumar shares how Abcam is striving to provide top quality, fit-for-purpose proteins to the scientific community

13 Jan 2022

Dr. Supriya Shivakumar
Dr. Supriya Shivakumar, Director of Proteins and Cell Lines at Abcam

Proteins are responsible for most biological functions required for normal and healthy activity of cells and tissues. Consequently, non-functional or dysregulated proteins are often the cause of disease, and our ability to understand how proteins function in healthy and disease states is key to driving the development of novel therapeutics. Manufactured proteins are increasingly being harnessed for a wide range of biological assays to facilitate life sciences and medical research.

In this exclusive interview, we speak with Dr. Supriya Shivakumar, Director of Proteins and Cell Lines at Abcam, who shares insights into Abcam’s substantial protein portfolio and discusses how the company is aiding scientists in achieving their research goals now, and into the future.

What is your team at Abcam responsible for?

SS: Abcam is a well-established antibody company, and, in the last few years, we have expanded our portfolio to include cell engineering, multiplexing, and increased protein coverage. We have leveraged our existing antibody expertise to improve our understanding of the cell biology at play and bring more value to these tools. 

My team is responsible for the creation and development of  new product ranges including high quality proteins which has resulted in us creating  a substantial proteins and peptides portfolio of about 14,000 proteins, as it's important to have that breadth. We aim to offer not just the highest quality but also the most fit-for-purpose proteins to support the researchers in their quest to understand biological events.

Something that we're particularly proud of within our quality setup is the data package, and how we are able to utilize our access to antibodies for the absolute validation of our proteins. Leveraging our antibodies is key.

How does the protein portfolio aim to help overcome existing challenges in proteins space?

SS: Quality and reproducibility are core values at Abcam, but we have very worthy competitors in this space, so we've also focused our efforts on what else researchers need.

One focus is ensuring the products are fit-for-purpose, bringing in all levels of quality, reproducibility, and biological activity.  In addition to offering research-grade proteins, which are important for validating reagents in biochemical assays, we also have  bioactive grades for more biologically or physiologically relevant situations. For example, where you're starting to look at where this protein can be used in an assay to understand how it's working in the human body.

The highest of these grades is our premium-grade bioactive protein range. We have developed a strong mammalian expression system to make these proteins as close to the native human situation as possible, including accurate folding and glycosylation.

What are the specific benefits of this portfolio to researchers?

SS: As scientists are moving more and more into very specified research areas, they are not always looking at a pathway. The focus is shifting to how pathways interact in a particular disease, and researchers are starting to look at a bigger picture within cells, looking at tissues, organs, and whole-system biology. 

When studying how different cells interact to form tissues and how those tissues interact to respond to drugs, you're starting to look at different segments and protein classes working together, which requires access to a comprehensive range of tools.

At 14,000 proteins, we offer the most extensive collection of proteins, which allows a more holistic approach to be applied to research. For example, if you're looking at Alzheimer's, neural cells, or immune responses, you can look at the whole picture with easy access to all the relevant proteins needed.

How is Abcam utilizing new technology to benefit researchers?

SS: As every protein is different, many analytical technologies are needed for purification and to retain the protein’s activity. To ensure bioactivity, we use enzymatic assays where appropriate, but we’ve recently moved to more cell-based assays to prove the bioactivity is functional in a cell setting. 

We’ve also built a brand new, 100,000-foot facility in Waltham. It's state of the art and has all the instrumentation needed to address all these different issues. The most significant benefit is that our protein, cell engineering, multiplex, and immunoassay development experts all share the same space.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have been working in more isolated spaces, so it’s fantastic to have everybody in the same area to generate more discussion, new ideas, and improvements. By bringing scientists together, you’re able to build new ideas to improve the quality and the trust in these reagents and how they work together. We can really help the researchers reduce the time spent validating their assay results. 

Why is ensuring open communication between researchers and industry important?

SS: When two fields intersect, you're bringing ideas from one group to another and digging in deeper to explore those ideas with people who may not have been exposed to them otherwise. We make sure to not only collaborate with multiple internal teams to achieve this but by regularly involving our customers through our sales, technical support, and field application specialist teams to ensure we’re producing fit for purpose reagents that the industry actually needs. For me, I think the strength of a platform like SelectScience is that it's a platform where all these ideas can get shared, and that's how we're going to move forward into the future.

What do you have planned for the future?

SS: We’ve spent a lot of time looking at how we can support researchers by really focusing on their specific research area. When building a tool chest for the future, it's great to be at the stage where we have the question, "What do we work on first?" 

  • Can we run large numbers of samples at a time but in small quantities? 
  • Can we measure how much protein is in there? 
  • Can we manipulate proteins? 

In the proteins area, there's so much going on, from miniaturizing to protein quantitation and manipulation, so these are just some of the areas we want to study. We are also utilizing our knock-out cell lines to fully understand their functions.

The other side to think about is large-scale production of specific proteins. We’re small enough to be agile, but big enough to make an impact. Having a large spectrum of samples enables bulk and large-scale testing, including multiplexed testing, whilst maintaining that consistency and reproducibility for in-depth experiments.

Learn more about Abcam’s bioactive protein range