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the corresponding gene has been switched on and is in a protein-producing state.
When the operation is complete, each mRNA strand is labeled in two ways: with a tag that connects it to its cell of origin, and a tag that serves as its own unique identifier. (Think of a soccer player in uniform, identified by her team logo on the front and also by her last name on the back of the jersey.) The system also allows researchers to tell not just that a cell is expressing a particular gene, but also how much.
Once the mRNAs are all tagged, the resulting soup is then prepped and loaded into a standard sequencing machine. To that point, the entire process requires only an afternoon’s work, says Fodor. For now, Cellular Research’s technology works with Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) sequencers, which dominate the field.
The sequencing time is the bottleneck, since each mRNA being sequenced not only has its own sequence, but also comes with its molecular tag and the cell ID—three pieces of information in one string. (Back to the soccer player: It’s like knowing her statistics, her personal identification, and her team information.) Researchers have, in effect, a snapshot of gene expression for each cell in the sample.
Like much of the field of single cell analysis, Cellular Research has links to Stanford. The company, founded in 2011, counts Steve Quake, a pioneer in the field, as a founder and advisor. Staff scientist Christina Fan, lauded by Forbes in 2011 as one of the brightest young scientists in the country, worked in Quake’s Stanford lab.
Quake is also a cofounder of Quanticel Pharmaceuticals, which is using single cell tumor analysis for drug development, and the research instrumentation maker Fluidigm, a leader in single cell technology using microfluidic chips.
Resolve made its public debut last Friday in the journal Science. (In the paper, the Cellular Research team uses the system’s non-commercial name CytoSeq.) It is currently in limited release, with one pharma customer lined up, Fodor says. Others, such as the Stanford immunotherapist Kohrt, are also road testing it. (Kohrt has no ties to the company.)
Cellular Research has raised cash from founders, friends, and family, says Fodor. He declines to say how much. There is one venture capitalist on the board, John Diekman of 5am Ventures. Diekman did not respond to a request for comment. When asked if 5am is an investor, as is noted in the VentureDeal database, Fodor said he’s not at liberty to disclose the names of outside investors.