Life Sciences Symposium explores the broad power of single cell biology

August 2, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources

Every tissue in the human body represents a complex mix of cell types — and the ability to probe subtle differences between these cells has substantial implications.

Until fairly recently, scientists could get a general picture of what was happening within a tissue as a whole, but not necessarily within the various cell types operating within that whole. The liver, for example, contains a variety of cell types beyond the hepatocytes that carry out the majority of the organ’s metabolic functions. Knowing their specific molecular nature and how they communicate with each other could lead to better understandings of disease mechanisms and improved treatment strategies.

Recent advances in sequencing technologies are changing that, though, enabling scientists to isolate and study individual cell types within a complex tissue, thus opening the field of single-cell biology.

The power of single cell biology to advance understanding of the basic process of human life and disease has led to rapid growth of the field in recent years, said Jiandie Lin, Ph.D., research professor at the U-M Life Sciences Institute and professor of cell and developmental biology at the U-M Medical School.

In September, the LSI’s annual Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium will bring pioneers in the field to the university to discuss the scientific advances driving the field forward. Lin, who chaired this year’s symposium planning committee, believes the symposium presents a unique opportunity for single cell scientists across the university to consider new ways to position U-M at the forefront of this field.

“The timing is really perfect to bring the single cell community at U-M together to hear about some of the cutting-edge research taking place in this field, and to expand this area of research here,” he said.

This year’s speakers represent a variety of scientific disciplines — from neuroscience, to immunology, to computer science and computational biology — reflecting the widespread applicability and relevance of single cell research techniques. The speakers include:

  • Long Cai, Ph.D., research professor of biology and biological engineering at the California Institute of Technology, whose lab uses super-resolution and live cell microscopy to study gene regulatory networks in cells and organisms.
  • Josh Huang, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, whose framework for discovering and classifying specific types of neurons advanced understanding of the diverse range of cell types operating within the brain’s neural circuits and how altered circuit development contributes to mental disorders.
  • Miriam Merad, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Precision Immunology Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, whose multiscale immune profiling strategies provide powerful tools for mapping immune cells within tumors and designing immunotherapy approaches to treating cancer.
  • Alexandra-Chloé Villani, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases, who recently used single-cell RNA sequencing to identify new types of immune cells in human blood.
  • Xiaoliang Sunney Xie, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, whose pioneering research in single molecule spectroscopy and imaging, single molecule enzymology and single cell genome sequencing has led to technological and fundamental scientific advances across the fields of biophysical chemistry and molecular and cell biology.
  • Nir Yosef, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, whose lab is developing computational models and software that leverage the power of single cell RNA sequencing data.

The 2018 Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium will take place from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 5 in Forum Hall, Palmer Commons. More information and a detailed schedule are available online.