It is well-known that clusters of living cells are made up of individuals possessing unique qualities just like a diverse social group.
Traditional analytic techniques however evaluate cells in tissue aggregates, often overlooking single-cell nuances that can offer valuable clues concerning health and disease.
ASU Senior Scientist and Professor, Deirdre Meldrum, and her colleagues at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute are pioneering a kind of miniaturized laboratory for the investigation of single cells. Known as the Cellarium, this live cell array technology will enable researchers to investigate the detailed behavior of individual cellsproviding unprecedented insights into their role in disease processes.
"Just as an aquarium is for viewing and studying live fish, the 'Cellarium' is for viewing and studying live cells," Meldrum says. "The Cellarium is an innovative, disposable microarray with sensors for dynamic, high-throughput measurements of live single cells. It is capable of multiparameter metabolic measurements of biosignatures induced by perturbation," she explains.
Currently under a $1.5 million grant from the NIH, the Cellarium project is the fruit of over a decade of scientific progress. Much of this work has been carried out with Meldrum's Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation, a multidisciplinary team Meldrum directs and that has devoted significant resources to the study of single-cell physiology. Other key investigators in the Cellarium project include Drs. Honor Glenn, Mark Holl, Laimonas Kelbauskas, Yanqing Tian, Cody Youngbull, and Mr. Cliff Anderson.
An NIH Center of Excellence in Genomic Sciences known as the Microscale Life Sciences Center at Biodesign, also directed by Meldrum, has created and developed the Cellarium's early generation technology, with the assistance of partners at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Brandeis University.
The new grant is part of the NIH Common Fund project known as LINCS - Library of Integrated Network-Based Cellular Signatures, which is a library of molecular signatures describing cell behavior in response to a variety of perturbing agents.
The central hypothesis of the LINCS project is that subjecting cells to perturbation can cause changes in the behavior and/or function that result in changes in the observable physical or biochemical characteristics of a cell or cell phenotype. Observing phenotypic cell changes in response to perturbation will help scientists better understand how environmental stresses on cells can cause them to transition to disease states.
While LINCS centers at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute are actively gathering molecular information, Meldrum stresses that the Cellarium's keen analytical capability to record dynamic characteristics of individual live cells in real time will provide a unique data set not attainable by any existing method. "We will be adding the dimensions of single-cell physiology and time to the LINCS database," Meldrum says.