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For Immediate Release
Monday, October 15 2012
Margot Lawton Kern
NIH Common Fund announces awards for Single Cell Analysis
The National Institutes of Health plans to invest more than $90 million over five
years, contingent upon the availability of funds, to accelerate the development
and application of single cell analysis across a variety of fields. The goal is
to understand what makes individual cells unique and to pave the way for medical
treatments that are based on disease mechanisms at the cellular level. Supported
by the NIH Common Fund, NIH plans to support 26 awards as part of three initiatives
of the Single Cell Analysis Program (SCAP).
Single cell analysis emerged as an important field of research after new technologies
with improved sensitivity made it possible to measure cell-to-cell differences in
living organisms and correlate the variation with changes in biological function
and disease processes.
By profiling individual cells, researchers can identify rare cell types as well
as alterations in the health or condition of specific cells that may relate to functional
changes and to determine the influence of cellular organization and environment
on such cells and states. The long-term goal of the SCAP is to accelerate the move
towards personalizing health to the cellular level by understanding the link between
cell variation, tissue and organ function, and emergence of disease.
“The development of new technologies that can detect differences between individual
cells within the same tissue is crucial to our understanding of a wide variety of
diseases,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “This Common
Fund Program is an excellent example of how the NIH can accelerate the pace of biomedical
The Single Cell Analysis Program will support three research centers that will work
together to identify patterns of gene expression in individual human cells within
a variety of tissues including the brain, heart, placenta, and olfactory system.
The goal is to reveal previously undetectable differences in the molecular composition
of individual cells; this will offer a new way to categorize cells using a genetic
The three groups have also proposed novel technical and computational approaches
to identify relevant variations in gene expression among individual cells and to
assess the functional consequences of these variations.
The funded groups will be managed as an integrated network to maximize collaboration.
All data and protocols will be made available to the research community.
The program plans to support 15 high-risk/high-impact projects to generate new methods
or significantly improve existing methods for single cell analysis. The projects
propose the development of new tools to enhance measurement parameters such as sensitivity,
selectivity, spatiotemporal resolution, scalability and/or non-destructive measures
that preserve the integrity of the cell. The new tools will also improve capabilities
for the simultaneous measurement of multiple molecular components (like genes or
proteins) within a single cell.
Examples of the proposed technologies include:
- Innovative high resolution imaging and novel methods for measuring physical properties
of single cells
- Improved methods for sequencing the entire genome of a single cell
- Biosensors that help scientists visualize protein activity in individual cells
- A novel platform for capturing information about secretions from single cells
- Development of platforms to increase analytical output
The final component of the program includes eight projects to accelerate the translation
of promising technologies for single cell analysis from prototype into practice.
This will involve taking technologies through the development and validation process
and establishing them as robust, well-characterized tools for use in a wide variety
of clinical and research settings. The goal of these awards is to support multidisciplinary
teams to develop these technologies so that they fill a critical biomedical need
and can also be applied more broadly.
Examples of these new technologies include:
- Robots that acquire information about the structural, electrical, and molecular
properties of many individual brain cells simultaneously
- Enhanced microscope and labeling techniques to increase the number of gene transcripts
and proteins that can be detected in a single cell
- High resolution analysis to track single cells within complex tissues
- Platforms to assess the molecular states of immune cells with applications to immune
therapy for cancer patients and early detection of active tuberculosis
For a detailed description of the funded grants as well as information about the
Single Cell Analysis Program, please visit: http://commonfund.nih.gov/singlecell/fundedresearch.aspx
The Single Cell Analysis Program is funded through the Common Fund, and managed
by the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the National Institute of
Biomedical Imaging and Biotechnology (NIBIB) and National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH), both part of NIH.
The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally
high impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major
opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute could
tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact
possible on the progress of medical research. Additional information about the NIH
Common Fund can be found at http://commonfund.nih.gov.
NIBIB’s mission is to support multidisciplinary research and research training at
the crossroads of engineering and the biological and physical sciences. NIBIB supports
emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and
through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the
NIBIB website: http://www.nibib.nih.gov/.
The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses
through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and
cure. More information is available at the NIMH Web site, http://www.nimh.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's
medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency
conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and
is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health
Last Updated On 10/17/2012