Single Cell: disruptive technology


Institut Curie now boasts a platform dedicated to emerging biological analysis technology, known as single cell technology. It allows cells’ specific properties to be studied individually at high speed. Biologist Geneviève Almouzni talks us through the key aspects and benefits of this new technology.

Geneviève Almouzni
  • The concept of single cell analysis bodes well for advances in cancer research in particular. Would it be fair to describe it as revolutionary?

I see it as disruptive technology. Until now, we were limited to carrying out ‘averaged’ analysis over an entire collection of often heterogenous cells. Thanks to single cell technology, we can now study individual cells within a collection of cells, picking out their individual specific properties. As a result, we can start investigating targeting dangerous cells with the right treatment.

And the fields of application extend well beyond cancer research: the technology applies to neurodegenerative diseases, immune diseases, resistance to treatment, and more.

  • What inspired Institut Curie’s interest in analyzing cells individually?

We realized we were restricted by an overall approach to tumors, and that we needed to be able to access their heterogeneity and environments. Considering drugs that target individual specific cell characteristics already exist, the ability to now apply them in a context in which it had previously been impossible to detect these characteristics is a huge step forward!

These new possibilities are inspiring clinicians and researchers alike. This is medicine tailored to each cell’s needs: cellular medicine, rather than just personalized medicine.

  • What makes Institut Curie such a strong candidate for leading the way?

Our strong foundations in microfluidics is a major advantage. The principles of physics in microfluidics applied to biologists’ areas of interest allowed us to hone the techniques needed to isolate each cell in micro-droplets. We developed this in collaboration with ESPCI (École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielle de la ville de Paris). We also work in PSL University, which is a highly conducive environment, and we work abroad too, with laboratories involved in the Human Cell Atlas project in particular. Closer to home, the combination with our approaches to sequencing and bioinformatics (technologies implemented within the context of our CurieCoreTech platforms) gave us a real appetite for more projects in a similar vein and the associated analytical aspects.

  • How does this research contribute to the Research Center’s MC21 scientific project?

The scientific fields we’re developing are leading us to investigate things on a cellular level. Single Cell is an overarching concept that brings together all our research units. Each individual entity will be able to develop new facets through this project.

  • The Single Cell project has ties to the European LifeTime project Institut Curie is working on. What will its contribution be?

Along with my colleague Nikolaus Rajewski in Germany, I got involved with support from Institut Curie, which draws on resources from over sixty different European laboratories. In France, the CNRS is also heavily involved, and Inserm too, naturally. This project explores developments involving single cell technology and how it might be used alongside imaging and innovative models to develop an approach that encompasses how cells in a healthy subject evolve, to how they evolve in a sick subject, with a view to developing our options for intervention. If all laboratories work to the same quality standards and norms, this research will yield relevant, pertinent analyses. Along with scientists from around the world, we’ve just published* a call for this to start happening.