Single-Cell Genomics Advancing Molecular Biology

May 13, 2012
Patricia Van Arnum

Patricia Van Arnum was executive editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.

The potential of single-cell genomics took a step forward recently with the announcement by The Broad Institute and Fluidigm Corporation of a new research center focused on developing research methods and discoveries in mammalian single-cell genomics.

The potential of single-cell genomics took a step forward recently with the announcement by The Broad Institute and Fluidigm Corporation of a new research center focused on developing research methods and discoveries in mammalian single-cell genomics. The Single-Cell Genomics Center is expected to act as a hub for collaboration among single-cell genomics researchers in many fields, including stem cells and cancer biology.

Single-cell genomics holds much potential for more targeted drug discovery through a better understanding of cells and their interactions. Heterogeneity exists among cells in tissue samples and other populations, but this cellular variability is masked by averaging data across pooled cell samples. The ability to tease out single-cell genomic data has historically been limited by a lack of standardized, user-friendly methods that would allow the study of individual cellular variability at high definition, high throughput, and low cost, according to a Fluidigm press statement. Advances in technology, such as microfluidic chips and high-throughput instruments, have made single-cell studies feasible by converting cellular heterogeneity from a source of background noise to a source of information to enable discoveries.

According to Fluidigm, the company’s technology provides the capabilities required to analyze single cells, namely microfluidics and sensitivity at the nanoscale level, parallel processing of a large number of cells, and interrogation of a large number of gene targets. The center will be housed at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and will feature Fluidigm single-cell tools, protocols, and technologies. The center intends to develop novel single-cell, microfluidic approaches for gene-expression profiling, RNA/DNA sequencing ,and epigenetic analysis. The goal of these efforts is to make single-cell research accessible to the greater scientific community by developing and disseminating new workflows, reagents, bioinformatics tools, and data sets.

It is hoped that these advances will provide the tools for better understanding the underlying causes of many diseases, including the progression of individual cancers, differential immune responses, and the maturation of stem cells. Targeted genomic information is key to understanding disease states for developing better therapies, an important ongoing need in current and future drug discovery.

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