The cell is the basic unit of life and new methods for profiling the genetic characteristics of individual cells are transforming our understanding of disease. Cancer arises when a single cell acquires genetic alterations leading to uncontrolled replication. As tumour cells divide, they continue to acquire mutations which they pass on to their descendants, forming sub-populations with different characteristics. This genetic diversity can allow tumours to evolve resistance to treatment and eventually spread. As such, profiling the genetic alterations and patterns of gene expression in tumours and their surrounding environment can reveal mechanisms underlying disease relapse and metastatic progression.
Current single cell genomic platforms present deficiencies in throughput, accuracy, and customizability. Researchers at The University of British Columbia developed the Isolatrix, an inkjet-based platform that integrates high-resolution imaging and neural network-based object recognition to rapidly isolate cells for genetic profiling. Building on a working prototype, the multidisciplinary team will engineer new features and validate the platform by implementing an established protocol for single cell DNA sequencing, benchmarking relative to an existing instrument currently in use at BC Cancer. The major goal of the project will be to extend the capabilities of the platform by performing full-length RNA sequencing at scale.
The global market for single cell analysis is forecast to reach $2.5B US by 2025. Comprehensive DNA and RNA measurement approaches are not readily available at scale on existing commercial platforms. As such, development of key platform features and validation of these workflows at BC Cancer will pave the way for optimization of new measurement protocols, and progress towards commercialization.