The power and challenges of single cell gene expression technology

For many common diseases, a significant percentage of patients simply do not respond effectively or have adverse side-effects to any given treatment. To more successfully focus our disease intervention targets, comparatively diverse species with high-resolution starting points are required. An understanding of cell type–specific variation in gene expression is key to deciphering the roles of genes in disease. Accordingly, newly developed single-cell methods have started to fill our gaps in knowledge of disease by allowing us to peer deeply into the molecular microenvironments of tissues and organs. Multiple lipid emulsion techniques for isolating and evaluating single cells have been developed; when coupled with various sequencing methods (e.g., methylation, transcriptome, and whole-genome sequencing), these approaches can reveal an unprecedented level of genetic variation specific to each cell type. We will review examples of the use of this technology and how my lab is using this method to test novel hypotheses.
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