Single cell biology beyond the era of antibodies: relevance, challenges, and promises in biomedical research.

Abraham P1, Maliekal TT2.

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2016 Oct 6. [Epub ahead of print]


Research of the past two decades has proved the relevance of single cell biology in basic research and translational medicine. Successful detection and isolation of specific subsets is the key to understand their functional heterogeneity. Antibodies are conventionally used for this purpose, but their relevance in certain contexts is limited. In this review, we discuss some of these contexts, posing bottle neck for different fields of biology including biomedical research. With the advancement of chemistry, several methods have been introduced to overcome these problems. Even though microfluidics and microraft array are newer techniques exploited for single cell biology, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) remains the gold standard technique for isolation of cells for many biomedical applications, like stem cell therapy. Here, we present a comprehensive and comparative account of some of the probes that are useful in FACS. Further, we illustrate how these techniques could be applied in biomedical research. It is postulated that intracellular molecular markers like nucleostemin (GNL3), alkaline phosphatase (ALPL) and HIRA can be used for improving the outcome of cardiac as well as bone regeneration. Another field that could utilize intracellular markers is diagnostics, and we propose the use of specific peptide nucleic acid probes (PNPs) against certain miRNAs for cancer surgical margin prediction. The newer techniques for single cell biology, based on intracellular molecules, will immensely enhance the repertoire of possible markers for the isolation of cell types useful in biomedical research.