Protein Data extracted from a Single Human Cell

Protein Data extracted from a Single Human Cell

The detection of cancerous cells gets a massive boost as scientists have figured out a way to track the progression of one cell at a time.

Proteins are an extremely important commodity of all living cells. They are crucial for proper functioning of cells which means that a living thing relies totally on their actions. From a damaged pancreatic cell, leading to diabetes, to a cancerous cell, which is cutting your life short, proteins can tell you about everything happening inside a cell. Despite its unimaginable contribution, the analysis of proteins inside a single cell is an incredibly difficult task as researchers don’t have a way to amplify them.

However, experts from the Medical Center of the University of Rochester joined forces with the scientists of the Department of Energy at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to come up with a revolutionary method through which massive amount of information about proteins can be extracted from a single cell.

The researching team included Charles Ansong and Geremy Clair as biochemists while Ryan Kelly and Ying Zhu acted as analytical chemists. They developed a technology called ‘nanoPOTS’, at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, which enabled them to measure proteins in a negligible amount of material. The fact that they found more than 650 proteins in a single human lung cell is the proof of that as this number is much more than what traditional procedures can count. They also analyzed a cultured cell to check the efficiency of the procedure and the results remained promising in this case as well. Kelly was delighted as he announced that in the following words:

NanoPOTS is like a molecular microscope that allows us to analyze samples that are 500 times smaller than we could see before. We can identify more proteins in one cell than could previously be identified from a group of hundreds of cells.”

Conventional methods have the ability to study a group of cells which consists of hundreds or thousands of cells. The result of such an analysis presents a general idea about the condition of the tissue as a whole. We hardly get any information about any specific cell and this is where problems may arise. It is quite possible that most of the cells are working perfectly but a handful of them are injurious, just what we get in case of cancer. Another reason why individual observation of each cell is needed revolves around the importance of some proteins as they determine the future of that particular cell.

The sample of fluid, used by the team for their research, was less than one-ten-thousandth of a teaspoon. A series of processing steps were used to prepare the sample for the all-important analysis but this posed a serious problem as some of the material was lost at every change of test tube or a machine. As the amazingly tiny sample was chosen at the start, losing any bit of it was troublesome. In order to tackle this issue, Kelly and Zhu created the Nanodroplet Processing in One Pot for Trace Samples (nanoPOTS), an automated platform for Capturing, Shunting, Testing, and Measuring tiny quantities of fluid, which ensured that the loss of sample is controlled.

One of the instrumental features of this technology is that the job of dispensing fluid is given to a robot which has an accuracy of one millionth of a meter. It transports the fluid in-between tiny wells where the minimal surface area is provided to the proteins to stick with. This is the place where proteins are separated from the rest of the material. Lastly, the material is sent to a Mass Spectrometer which measures different proteins by isolating them on the basis of their mass.

According to the developers of this revolutionary technology, it reduces the losses by more than 99% which offers enough material to the scientists to perform their analysis. They can measure which proteins are at high levels and which of them are at low levels. This information is extremely crucial when you need to judge which cells are healthy and which of them are inflamed. Common examples include Alzheimer’s and Cancer where medical experts need to know which cells are affected in order to treat the disease in the best possible manner.

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