In Focus - Issue 29 (Spring 2018)

ising academic star Prof Angela Ruohao Wu, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and her research into tumor initiation reveal her passion for engineering that makes a di erence. Where she is making that di erence is in the cutting-edge emerging eld of single-cell genomics and the design of microfluidic devices (“lab-on-a-chip”) that can isolate individual cells, enabling single-cell analysis of their genome and uncovering errors, including mutations. “Just as di erent people have di erent characteristics and play diverse roles in society, di erent cells have their own unique identities and functions in an organ. Traditionally, researchers take millions of cells from an organ and study their average genomic pro le, which doesn’t say much about an individual cell,” she noted. Her work helps to provide the techniques to enable each cell to be located and identi ed to provide a “human cell atlas”, rather like a Google map. “Even when the cells ‘go rogue’ and become pathological, for example in cancer, the diversity of cell types in tumors remains important at the individual cell level. To give us the location, function, and role of each individual cell, I design microfluidic devices to isolate individual cells,” she said. “We can then read and analyze their genome individually at the single-cell level and discover mistakes, such as mutations.” Understanding cancer While most one-cell researchers to date have explored DNA and RNA separately, Prof Wu and her team are seeking to make a unique contribution by studying them together, using a new technique that will provide a more complete set of information about a cell. What this technique could o er is the potential to learn more about the origins of the disease, for example, the fundamental reason – “big bang event” – that initiates a cancer tumor. 12 IN FOCUS R The Wu Lab team: one-cell researchers using novel technologies to study DNA and RNA together. “What motivates me every day is the joy of working with my team to invent new technologies, and make discoveries about biology to help us ght diseases such as cancer” Faculty Insight