Summer Workshop to Determine Cell-to-Cell Variability

Determining meaningful variability among cells is a common goal of researchers in virtually every area of medical research. For instance, investigators who can pinpoint significant differences among tumor cells have the basis for explaining why some cells respond to a medication and others don’t.

Over the last decade, Associate Professor Kevin Janes has been working to perfect a method he calls “stochastic profiling,” which has enabled him to assess variation without removing cells from their context. Two summers ago, he introduced an eight-day hands-on Stochastic Profiling Workshop to teach other scientists to use the technique.

“I devised stochastic profiling to address biological questions that are of interest to me,” Janes says. “But knowing its advantages, I wanted to make it available to other scientists. The workshops are an important way of doing this.”

Janes was inspired to organize the workshops by the response he received at presentations he made at universities around the country. “Invariably, there is someone in the audience who comes up afterward to tell me that stochastic profiling seems like it might help them solve an important research problem.”

Determining Cell-to-Cell Variability

The prevalent approach to determining variation is to analyze cells individually. The problem for Janes is that the cells must be removed from their environment before they can be examined, which can potentially alter the abundance of biomolecules that each cell contains. In addition, harvesting individual cells adhering to other tissue is a time-consuming process.

Stochastic profiling preserves their context, but it is still hard on cells. To obtain sufficient material for analysis, Janes takes many random 10-cell samples from the tissue he wants to analyze. He then subjects his results to statistical analysis that enables him to identify collections of cells that are starkly different from others.

The Summer Workshop

Stochastic profiling is a complex technique, involving many steps including laser-capture microdissection and exponential cDNA amplification. Accordingly, the summer workshops are distinguished by the personal attention each participant receives. Janes and four senior members of his lab work closely with just 10 participants each session. Six days are devoted to mastering the basics and the last two to helping participants adapt the protocol for their purposes.

Participants have come from such universities as Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, and Vanderbilt. Thanks to support from the Biomedical Engineering Department, the U.Va. Office of the Vice President for Research, the Biorepository and Tissue Research Facility, and the Packard Foundation, the workshop is free. Participants pay only for room, board, and transportation. For information on the 2016 summer workshop, contact Kevin Janes at kjanes@virginia.edu.

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