As techniques become more refined, researchers are increasingly able to separate, amplify, and analyze DNA from single cells, though there are still technical hurdles.
"People are becoming very interested in what is the variation from cell to cell," the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center's Nicholas Navin tells Nature News.
Navin spent much of his postdoc at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory trying to isolate single cells from cancerous tissue samples to see how individual tumor cells mutate and evolve. While he turned to chemicals to release nuclei from cancer cells, other researchers have focused on sperm cells as they are easier to isolate.
Nature News adds that the US National Institutes of Health is planning to fund studies of single cells with $90 million over the course of 5 years. As Daily Scan's sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News reported at the time, NIH "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," said NIH Director Francis Collins in a statement.