Single Cell: biology changes scale
Institut Curie has acquired a Single Cell analysis platform. Using approaches based on microfluidics, researchers can isolate single cells in microscopic droplets, “like microreactors that can be used for many experiments,” explains Céline Vallot, head of the Dynamics of epigenetic plasticity in cancer team and scientific coordinator of the Single Cell platform.
A specialist in bioinformatics and epigenetics, the researcher will use this technique to study alterations in chromatin, that is, chemical modifications to the proteins known as histones that order the DNA. “Working on this topic represents a two-pronged challenge, because you need to isolate the cells one by one without altering them and use fresh samples to ensure that the organization of the DNA is intact, just as it is in the living organism. The project for this platform is based on close collaboration with physicists from ESPCI (École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielle de la ville de Paris) to optimize the necessary microfluidics techniques,” adds Vallot. We know that chromatin is changed when cancer is present, but what role do the changes play? We also know of medications that can affect the histone modification profile. But will they be able to correct the chromatin in cancer cells? Céline Vallot’s plan is to fill in these gaps in the knowledge of epigeneticists and oncologists by answering these questions.
Leïla Perié, second co-director of the platform and head of the Quantitative approaches in immunohematology team, will be looking at other epigenetic mechanisms that lead the stem cells to become red blood cells or various types of white blood cells, for example, or cause healthy cells to become cancerous. She will combine microfluidics with another technique she developed: “a sort of genetic barcode that can identify each individual cell and track its future from generation to generation,” she explains. Again, the ultimate aim is personalized treatments at the cellular level for every patient.
“We have different projects with Céline Vallot, but we are working together and pooling our efforts to develop this single cell technology and share it with other Curie teams,” concludes Perié. This major technological watershed is also part of Institut Curie’s institutional project.