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Scientists pull out protein data from single cells

NanoPOTS protein analysis
Ying Zhu, a chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, places a chip containing samples for analysis into the automated NanoPOTS system. (PNNL Photo / Andrea Starr)

Scientists have developed a technique that can analyze fluid from a single human cell to identify its proteins — which could open the way for tracking the progression of cancer one cell at a time.

The method is known as NanoPOTS, or “nanodroplet processing in one pot for trace samples.” It was developed by scientists at the the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and detailed in a study published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie.

“NanoPOTS is like a molecular microscope that allows us to analyze samples that are 500 times smaller than we could see before,” PNNL analytical chemist Ryan Kelly, the study’s senior author, said in a news release. “We can identify more proteins in one cell than could previously be identified from a group of hundreds of cells.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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