MIT researchers can now track a cell’s RNA expression to investigate long-term processes like cancer progression or embryonic development.
Sequencing all of the RNA in a cell can reveal a great deal of information about that cell’s function and what it is doing at a given point in time. However, the sequencing process destroys the cell, making it difficult to study ongoing changes in gene expression. An alternative approach developed at MIT could enable researchers to track such changes over extended periods of time. The new method, which is based on a noninvasive imaging technique known as Raman spectroscopy, doesn’t harm cells and can be performed repeatedly. Using this technique, the researchers showed that they could monitor embryonic stem cells as they differentiated into several other cell types over several days. This technique could enable studies of long-term cellular processes such as cancer progression or embryonic development, and one day might be used for diagnostics for cancer and other diseases.