December 2012

Three ASBMB members get NIH funding for single-cell analysis

Photo of Marc Kirschner 
Photo of Peter Sims 
Photo of Navin Varadajaran 

Three American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members won grants from the Single Cell Analysis Program at the National Institutes of Health. Marc Kirschner at Harvard University, Peter Sims at Columbia University Health Services and Navin Varadajaran at the University of Houston were among the 26 recipients of awards supported by the NIH Common Fund.

The NIH intends to invest more than $90 million over five years to promote the development and application of single-cell analysis. The SCAP’s goal is to understand what makes individual cells unique and to accelerate the development of clinical therapies based on disease mechanisms at the cellular level. The program has three parts: one to support three research centers, one to create new laboratory-based single-cell technologies and one to generate clinically relevant methods.

“The development of new technologies that can detect differences between individual cells within the same tissue is crucial to our understanding of a wide variety of diseases,” said NIH director Francis S. Collins in a press release. “This Common Fund program is an excellent example of how the NIH can accelerate the pace of biomedical discovery.”

Kirschner’s and Sims’ projects belong to the program sector that plans to support new methods for single-cell analysis. Kirschner’s aim is to establish a method that simultaneously can profile more than 1,000 cells in each run of a fluorescent-activated, cell-sorting instrument. The method, largely based on existing technologies, will measure tens of proteins and 100 to 200 mRNA levels simultaneously in single cells. Sims’ project will develop single-cell proteomics by creating a new technology for protein identification that combines single-molecule fluorescence microscopy and a microfabricated array platform.

Varadajaran’s project is among those designed to accelerate the translation of technologies from the laboratory to the clinic. Varadajaran obtained an R01 grant to study single-cell biomarkers in genetically modified T-cells. These cells are being tested in clinical trials to treat leukemia and lymphoma. Varadajaran’s aim is to validate the tools for investigating how well the modified T-cells can target tumor cells and use that information to understand better their therapeutic benefits.

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