27 July 2011 08:57
Title of proposed idea: Single Cell Analysis
Nominator: Innovation Brainstorm participants
Major obstacle/challenge to overcome: Population heterogeneity among cells in a given tissue is a critical issue whose importance bridges many areas of biomedicine: cancer, infectious disease, developmental processes, organs, and immune responses. However, it is well-known that current approaches are quite limited in that they can only achieve approximate ensemble analyses of cell populations. Roadblocks to progress in this area are biological and technological: Molecular and systems level description (and quantitation) of cells, organs, and disease processes requires a greater understanding of the behaviors of individual cells and the overall composition of the population.
Emerging scientific opportunity ripe for Common Fund investment: Advances in engineering and nanotechnology provide the opportunity for transformative methods in single-cell and population-based analyses. The need for ultra-sensitive analytical methods and sophisticated computational tools calls for expertise from physicists, engineers, and computer scientists. It is possible that existing theorems on organizational behavior could be re-purposed for single-cell studies.
Common Fund investment that could accelerate scientific progress in this field: Potential Common Fund (CF) investments in this area would go beyond most of the current emphasis on microscopic and imaging techniques (although those approaches are also useful and necessary). Potential new investments could be in mapping a single cell’s epigenome, proteome, and metabolome. In addition, CF investment is needed to extend recent proof-of-principle work in single-cell genome sequencing and transcriptomics that is highly innovative, but low-throughput and far from practice. CF investments should emphasize approaches that capture living (or recently living) cells in vivo without need for overexpression or artificial constructs.
Potential impact of Common Fund investment: The ultimate motivation for more research in single-cell analysis is the potential for in vivo application to disease. Developing a robust set of tools to assess (and ultimately manipulate) single cells in situ is a key step toward achieving that goal. This achievement would have broad applicability across biomedicine: both for basic studies and for clinical use.