On-chip analysis of cellular material has come a long way. Initially, this was performed on specific cell populations, leaving the unique characteristics of individual cells unexplored. For a great deal of medical and scientific research, however, the profile of the unique cell is the most interesting. At this level, changes can be witnessed that can, for example, indicate the initial stage of a disease. New techniques have surfaced that get into the specifics of one cell, such as high content screening (HCS), high content analysis (HCA), and single-cell analysis (SCA). All these technologies perform a large number of individual cell measurements in order to examine and measure the contents and processes of a single cell. These technologies are essential to understand complex processes in disciplines as neurology, stem cell biology, and oncology. The scale on which this research takes place is becoming increasingly detailed and has to be performed with equipment of the highest sensitivity.
In order to capture that one cell of interest, there are various options for sorting heterogeneous cell populations. Cells are mostly separated relying on differences in cell size, shape (morphology), and surface protein expression. The resulting homogenous populations of cells have important applications in research and as therapeutics. Micronit can provide solutions that are based on various microfluidic cell sorting technologies, like acoustophoresis (SAW), microfluidic switching, magnetic levitation, dielectrophoresis (DEP), pinched flow fractionation (PFF), and deterministic lateral displacement (DLD). Next to this, cells can be labeled with fluorescent molecules that attach to specific subcellular parts. In this way, the degree of presence of the specific component in a cell population can be demonstrated and quantified by means of the fluorescence, thus making use of the richer data from individual cells.
One of the key areas in single-cell analysis is single-cell genomics. Single-cell genomics is a method used to analyze the genome of individual cells. Single-cell RNA sequencing is at the forefront of this field, utilizing the greater differences between cells at the RNA level. Interesting to see how microfluidics can help to unravel the characteristics of a single cell, which leads to groundbreaking innovations in the health sector!
But how does single-cell genomics actually work? The workflow can be divided into three steps.
1. Biopsy - Which group of cells has to be examined? The biopt could be cellular tissue or a liquid (like blood).
2. Cell isolation / Sample preparation - Which cells are of interest? How can they be isolated from the rest of the cells? For this, you can use cell sorting methods or technologies like droplet generation and encapsulation (creating a single droplet that contains a single cell).
3. Genomic analysis - What do these individual cells tell us? The actual analysis on the single-cell level mostly is performed using technologies like NGS or PCR for gene expression assessment.
The field of single-cell analysis is rapidly growing. Molecular diagnostics applications are becoming more and more the standard analysis method, at the expense of regular lab culture testing. SCA is crucial as well in healthcare applications like in vitro fertilization, prenatal diagnosis and the examination of circulating tumour cells (CTC’s). The market is eager for these ongoing advances in microfluidic technologies and high throughput analysis systems, which will enable enormously detailed, fast, and parallel analysis of ever-smaller samples.
At Micronit, we keep a close eye on the trends in the markets we serve. This is extremely important from a business point of view, but also inspiring! Would you like to share ideas?