The Promise of Single Cell and Single Molecule Analysis Tools to Advance Environmental Health Research

Posted on

March 7-8, 2019

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
NAS Building, Lecture Room
2101 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20418

How similar are the cells within a particular tissue? Most analytical tools study cells and their molecular contents in bulk, providing information about the average cell and molecular complexes. Now, emerging findings suggest these traditional approaches could miss important differences between the cells in a sample, rare cell types like cancer stem cells or drug-resistant bacteria, and the opportunity to capture a cell in a fleeting transitional state.

Over the past decade, new single cell and single molecule analysis tools have led to advances that isolate single cells, technologies that can assay each cell’s DNA, RNA, proteins, and metabolites, and imaging tools that map cell contents and their molecular interactions. These tools promise new insight on the differences in function between individual cells and molecules, the organization and timing of responses to stimuli, how cells interact as components of a complex system, and how these interactions may change with age, disease, and exposure to environmental stressors.

This workshop explored the current status of this rapidly evolving field of study, reviewed the preliminary use of single cell and single molecule analysis tools in environmental health studies, and investigated the resources needed to make the data generated most useful to the biomedical and public health fields and to regulatory decision makers.

Held in Washington D.C. and webcast live, the workshop included presentations and panel discussions on topics such as:

  • What does single cell and single molecule analysis enable researchers to do better, for example in terms of precision, accuracy, and speed?
  • What kinds of environmental health questions or challenges could be explored with single cell and single molecule detection tools and analysis?
  • What are the key goals to advance or improve single cell and single molecule tools, particularly as they pertain to environmental health research and decision needs?
  • What are the key barriers or limitations to the use of data emerging from the use of single cell and single molecule detection tools, for example in terms standards, comparability across technologies, and the limit of detection uncertainties?

This National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine activity was sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Workshop organizing committee:  Norbert Kaminski (Chair), Michigan State University; Lesa Aylward, Summit Toxicology; Sudin Bhattacharya, Michigan State University; Kim Boekelheide, Brown University; M. Selim Ünlü, Boston University; Ramnik Xavier, Broad Institute

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