A team comprised of former Facebook and Google employees have, together with biochemists, created a machine they believe could lead to a genuine cure for cancer ‘within decades’. The small device named Chromium carries out experiments on each individual cell in a sample, up to hundreds of thousands or even millions, and returns detailed analysis on them. Chromium produces as many tiny gel beads as cells in a sample. Each bead has its own unique barcode and is allocated a single cell with is added to it. Chromium then sequences the cell’s DNA and cells are sorted by the barcodes.
The in-depth insights that this analysis on a single cell level offers, when conducted across a cell sample, is proving invaluable in research into diseases. Biotech and pharmaceuticals labs are increasingly making use of Chromium and its beginning to turn up some key new discoveries on how our bodies work.
The company behind Chromium, 10x Genomics, was founded 7 years ago and is made up of engineers and other professionals with backgrounds in the biggest Silicon Valley tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Tesla as well as some top biochemists. This combination of science, technology and advances in the computing power that can be packed into small machines is starting to produce groundbreaking experiments at scale.
The new information cheaper, more efficient DNA sequencing that can be compiled in huge volumes through cloud computing and analysed using AI algorithms is significant. Using Chromium, a group of scientists at MIT and Harvard identified a new type of cell in the lung airway. It appeared this cell was crucial to the biology of cystic fibrosis. While such discoveries are not cures or treatments in themselves, they provide new understanding that could subsequently lead to crucial breakthrough.
10x Genomics chief executive and co-founder Serge Saxonov has commented?
Last summer a group of scientists using the machine at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute
“Goals that would have seemed like science fiction not that long ago I think are actually tangibly possible, like curing cancer. I mean in the foreseeable future, like in decades’ time. I’m not talking five years from now, but it’s not 100 years either.”
The single-cell level analysis Chromium provides is crucial to understanding cancer because tumours are made of different masses of different cells. They could all react differently to medication designed to kill the cancerous cells in it. If even one percent of a tumour’s cells survive, those are the ones which will re-multiply and likely spread a cancer the medication is powerless against. But the analysis Chromium provides means that subsequent check-ups can look for all of the different kinds of cells a treated tumour contained, detecting any survivors.
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