Tuesday, January 21, 2020

CyTOF data on single cells for 281 cancer patients with long term clinical data!

Somewhere around you, possibly within walking distance, depending on the relative funding level and decision making skills of your administrators is probably a big grey and orange box like the thing above. I'd be comfortable betting you $1.14 that it probably isn't doing anything right this second. This box is called a CyTOF and -- I swear -- it has all sorts of promise, but it's a bit of technology that is seeking a real application. And I'm going to jump on every paper I see that suggests we may have finally found it.

Imagine that you're doing flow cytometry. You've tagged your cells with a couple of proteins and these proteins have a dye on them. The instrument measures the intensity of these dyes as the cells are sorted and you basically get single cell data on the intensity of these two proteins in each single cell. Now upgrade that idea and replace the dyes with protein tags that you can see with a mass spec. The cells get sorted, go through, get ionized, and a mass spec measures the tags for each cell! Great idea, right?

{Deleted a lot of me making fun of how ridiculously underpowered the TOF on the back end of the CyTOF prior to hitting the publish button. However, because this technology has so much promise, it's a little soul crushing they didn't partner with someone -- anyone-- to make a better detector. There are mass spec you can carry around that are higher resolution.}

Okay -- but you are still looking at a bunch of proteins across a bunch of cells. With the right experimental design maybe you can get past the limitations on the back end -- and for real -- maybe this is it!!

This group uses 35 protein tags -- which is a lot for a flow instrument -- and they use a smart experimental design and a really large cohort -- and they end up getting over 700 sample across and collect data on the 35 proteins across the SINGLE CELLS from these patients. Right?!?!? Yeah -- it's only 35 markers -- but this is a ton of smart and then they can correlate their findings at the single cell level with clincal data and -- get this -- they have long term recovery data for 280 of these patients!

This is how you utilize a CyTOF. The problem is going to be access to data that is this powerful for every institution that has invested in these things -- but -- it's a start and this is an awesome study.

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