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NIH to Fund Single Cell Analysis Studies with $90M

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health said today that it is using more than $90 million to fund research projects and centers that will accelerate the development of new single cell analysis technologies in a range of fields.

The Single Cell Analysis Program (SCAP), funded by the NIH Common Fund, will invest in three research centers and will support 26 new projects that will pursue science seeking to enhance researchers' abilities to understand links between cell variation, tissue and organ function, and the origins of diseases.

"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," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement. "This Common Fund Program is an excellent example of how the NIH can accelerate the pace of biomedical discovery."

It was not immediately clear which research institutes have received the new SCAP funding, and a call to NIH for clarification was not returned by the time of this publication.

The new SCAP awards will fund three research centers that will aim to identify gene expression patterns in individual human cells from a range of tissue types including the brain, heart, placenta, and olfactory system. The aim is to develop new ways to categorize cells based on genetic signatures. These groups also will pursue novel computational methods to identify relevant variations in gene expression among individual cells and to assess their functional consequences.

The centers will be managed as an integrated network, and all of its data and protocols will be made available to the research community.

The SCAP grants also will fund 15 high-risk/high-impact studies that seek to develop new, or improve existing, methods for single cell analysis.

These projects will develop new tools to enhance measurement parameters such as sensitivity, selectivity, scalability, and other measures that can preserve cellular integrity. These will include efforts to develop improved methods for sequencing the entire genome of a cell, and high-resolution imaging and novel methods for measuring the physical properties of cells, among others.

The program also will fund eight projects seeking to accelerate the translation of new single cell analysis technologies from the prototype phase 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," NIH said.

These will include efforts to develop new technologies such as 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, and platforms to assess the molecular states of immune cells for use in cancer therapies and early detection.