Investigating Evolutionary Perspective of Carcinogenesis with Single-cell Transcriptome Analysis

Researchers at USC have developed phase-switch microfluidic devices for molecular profiling of a large number of single cells. Whole genome microarrays and RNA-sequencing are commonly used to determine the expression levels of genes in cell lysates (a physical mix of millions of cells) for inferring gene functions. However, cellular heterogeneity becomes an inherent noise in the measurement of gene expression. The unique molecular characteristics of individual cells, as well as the temporal and quantitative information of gene expression in cells, are lost when averaged among all cells in cell lysates.

Their single-cell technology overcomes this limitation and enables one to obtain a large number of single-cell transcriptomes from a population of cells. A collection of single-cell molecular profiles allows the study of carcinogenesis from an evolutionary perspective by treating cancer as a diverse population of cells with abnormal molecular characteristics. Because a cancer cell population contains cells at various stages of development toward drug resistance, clustering similar single-cell molecular profiles could reveal how drug-resistant sub-clones evolve during cancer treatment. Here, the researchers  discuss how single-cell transcriptome analysis technology could enable the study of carcinogenesis from an evolutionary perspective and the development of cancer drug-resistance in leukemia. The single-cell transcriptome analysis reported here could have a direct and significant impact on current cancer treatments and future personalized cancer therapies.

  • Zhang X, Zhang C, Li Z, Zhong J, Weiner LP, Zhong JF. (2013) Investigating Evolutionary Perspective of Carcinogenesis with Single-cell Transcriptome Analysis. Chin J Cancer [Epub ahead of print]. [article]