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Seeing Single Cells, Microarrays and Microfluidics, and RNAi

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Genome Technology's May 2007 cover story looked at new ways of studying single cells. The article showcased researchers using RNAi, DNA sequencing, and protein-protein interaction studies to perturb individual cells. Featured on our cover was Michelle Khine at the University of California, Merced, who was using a microfluidic device she developed as a grad student to deliver everything from drug compounds to DNA into single cells. One of Khine's current research projects, engineering heart and blood vessel tissue, is funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Also in that issue, GT reported on gene expression microarrays and how they're being used to better diagnose neurological illness, including Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's, and schizophrenia. Michael Hauser at Duke was using microarrays to follow up on genome-wide association study markers for Parkinson's disease. 2007 became the year of GWAS, but functional assays are still needed to validate what all this data means in the search for effective drug targets.

Back in May 2003, the cover story took an in-depth look at the nascent field of RNAi, then a fairly new technology. At the time, a PubMed search for RNAi came up with 750 papers. Five years later, that number eclipses 20,000. Now, of course, RNAi is a widespread tool in functional genomics and drug discovery; several validated RNAi libraries exist, including mouse and human. Seeing the therapeutic potential of RNAi, big pharma finally stepped in and made 2007 a remarkable year in the field — in two of the largest deals, Merck bought Sirna, and Roche partnered with Alnylam. While no siRNA-based drugs have yet been approved, several are in human clinical trials.

Another 2003 article focused on microfluidics. Today, one area where the technology has made headway is for in vitro diagnostic assays. Iris Biotechnologies, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based diagnostics company, announced this March that it plans to submit a microfluidic chip designed to look at gene expression in breast cancer signatures, for FDA approval as an in vitro diagnostic. The assay will recommend the best treatment regimen for breast cancer patients.

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