Portrait - Amandine Trouchet, manager of the future Single cell platform
“Droplet-based microfluidics is the future of biological analysis,” gushes Amandine Trouchet. As an engineer, and then a PhD as of 2016, the young scientist sorely needed droplets when she was amplifying genetic information (via PCR) on bacteria for an industrial firm. She then responded to a call for applications by Institut Curie seeking to support its Single Cell project. “During my thesis research at the biochemistry laboratory of ESPCI Paris, I learned to set up a station similar to the one we’ll be using at Institut Curie,” she explains. “Then I worked with a company to design a small-scale prototype of a droplet generator with an eye to later industrialization.” Droplets again! The goal was to bring a technology that is, after all, complex within reach for a researcher.
Decoding each cell to decide which target medication to give
Microfluidics is the science and technology of manipulating fluids within systems where at least one dimension is on the order of micrometers (a thousandth of a millimeter). Institut Curie is home to several experts in microfluidics techniques, including Jean-Louis Viovy’s team (CNR) at Institut Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (IPGG). It is on its technological plateform that every step of micro construction of the microfluidic cheaps are done.
“It’s an emerging field,” continues Trouchet, manager of the new dedicated platform. “I have no doubt that it will be a gold mine for research. Of course, there’s a lot of work to do! This technology is at the interface of physics, chemistry, and biology. We are very hopeful that our results will help advance targeted therapies.”
Institut Curie acquired its first device in 2016. “But there was no way to adjust the protocol, and since each kit was expensive, the institute wanted to take it to the next level,” explains Trouchet. “Then Institut Curie adopted a more configurable technology, RNAseq (for studying RNA).” The tool allows researchers to adapt certain parameters in the analysis protocol.
Currently, Trouchet is providing technical expertise on two projects based on this technology. “I am supporting the team under Olivier Lantz (head of CD4+ lymphocytes, innate T lymphocytes and cancer),” she explains,” who wants to study the infiltration of tumors into the immune system’s T lymphocytes based on their receptors and genetic markers. The second project is being led by Leïla Perié, head of the Quantitative approaches in immunohematology team. She hopes to track what happens, from generation to generation, to the stem cells that differentiate into blood cells and immune cells.”
Mastering all the parameters of the analysis protocol
What’s the latest? “Without question, the delivery of the devices we ordered the first few days after I arrived!” exclaims the scientist. “That was the main reason I was hired: to implement a genomic analysis platform on a single-cell scale (scOMIC).* In addition to the technologies already present, the -future- scalable microfluidics platform will be similar to the one designed by our neighbors at École supérieure de physique et chimie industrielle (ESPCI). The scalable microfluidics platform will allow us to adapt a large number of parameters. By changing the microfluidic circuits, it is possible to change the size of the droplets (between 2 pL and 1 nL**). We will also be able to produce our hydrogel barcoding beads and manipulate the droplets. The droplets that are formed may undergo a series of manipulations. The composition of a droplet may be changed via active fusion (by applying an electrical field) with another droplet. It will also be possible to divide, sort by fluorescence, and incubate droplets.”
This is a real boon, thanks to public generosity, for independently running large-scale projects in an emerging domain (although the equipment itself does not take up much space; only 1.5 m2). The scientific project the institute will launch with this technology is one by Céline Vallot, head of the Dynamics of epigenetic plasticity in cancer team. It involves studying the epigenetic changes that occur during tumorigenesis in connection with their tumor phenotype by analyzing the DNA of the chromatin.