Dr Alex Shalek

Individual cell measurements enable unprecedented precision: Dr Alex Shalek NZ tour dates

11 March 2015, International visits and visitors, Technology


Dr Alex Shalek, one of the figureheads in single-cell RNA-sequencing and recently appointed Assistant Professor at the Chemistry Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, will give a lecture tour across New Zealand and Australia in March 2015, including Wellington.



Dr Adam Alexander T. Smith of the Malaghan Institute is co-ordinating this international event, and explains here the significance of Dr Shalek’s work which uses the immune system as its primary model.

“Up until recently, researchers could study the usage (transcription) of genes in the genome in samples containing hundreds of thousands of cells, looking for overall patterns and changes induced by treatments or diseases. Unfortunately, this cannot reveal differences between individual cells. Alex Shalek’s ground-breaking work with single-cell transcriptomics allows this, and has shown that immune cells (amongst others) have a much higher diversity of responses to stimuli than previously thought.”

“Imagine we're looking at a company, where each of our 100,000 cells is an employee and the company embarks on a new management process. With previous transcriptomics we could measure overall changes in company output but have no idea how the new process influenced individual employees. Being able to separate each of the cells in the sample and measure their gene usage separately is like being able to send an individual auditor to each and every employee, to assess exactly how the process has affected them.”



Left: Gene usage across a dozen single cells for 7 example genes is consistent for the 3 genes on the left, but shows great variability for the 4 on the right.

Right: Fluidigm's C1 microfluidics chip can capture a single cell for experimentation.


The technology allows an immense gain in resolution over the previous and enables researchers to investigate how a single cell responds to treatments and diseases. Ultimately, this might help understand the dynamics and diversity of the most intimate inner workings of the cell, providing insights in many fields - for example, helping understand why some cancer cells from a same tumour are resistant to therapy while others are not, or why a very specific subset of immune cells is responsible for an allergic reaction rather than another, or why some "flag bearer" immune cells - despite looking identical to their brethren - are crucial in initiating a response to an invading parasite.”

Please contact Alex Smith (asmith@malaghan.org.nz) for more information.


This event is sponsored by the following organisations: