Each year, nearly two million people across the United States will receive a new cancer diagnosis. And while scientists and physicians have made incredible strides in understanding the disease and developing innovative new therapies, there is much work to be done.
We still don’t know why, for example, people with a specific variation in their DNA develop cancer and other people with the same variation don't. That’s in part because each person’s cancer has a complex combination of genetic changes that are unique to them.
In the past, researchers would take samples from a tumor to learn generalities about the cancer, but it was not enough information to provide a detailed view of how different types of cells were behaving inside the tumor. Piecing together these bits of evidence provided only a small window into the problem. And it was painstakingly slow.
10x Genomics, a leading biotechnology company, is changing that by creating tools that provide researchers with clear and comprehensive views of tumors and other systems.
Hertz Fellow Michael Schnall-Levin, the senior vice president of research and development at the company, said the goal of 10x Genomics is simple: "We want to play a major role in understanding and curing people's diseases."
Using 10x Genomics technology, researchers can now zoom in to the cellular level to view malfunctioning DNA, understand how therapies are impacting specific cells, and uncover how cells interact with their neighboring tissues. The products developed by Schnall-Levin and colleagues at 10x Genomics provide unprecedented resolution and perspectives that can lead to new discoveries to treat disease.
“Before this technology, if you wanted to study a patient’s tumor, you would just mash up all the material from the tumor and study it all at once,” says Schnall-Levin.
This tumor mash doesn’t let the researcher pinpoint issues; it just mixes the hundreds of different types of cells within the tumor together. Like with a fruit smoothie, you get an overall picture of components, but you might not be able to identify all the ingredients in the glass.
10x Genomics technology also allows researchers to view tumors spatially. Schnall-Levin explains that researchers can look at a piece or slice of intact tumor and understand the specific location of cancer cells versus healthy cells.
“It gives you another extra layer of information about how things are interacting with each other, and how they are organized with respect to each other," he says.
He says it has been especially effective in immunoncology treatments that target tumors with the patient’s own immune system.
10X Genomics technologies are helping researchers around the world find cures for diseases.
The company already has a global reach. 10x Genomics provides software and hardware tools currently used in 97 of the top 100 research institutions around the world. Its technology has been featured in more than 700 peer-reviewed publications and counting.
One example is at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where researchers are using the single-cell technologies to investigate the body’s response to tumors, delve into what drives mutations, and help discover why some treatments don’t work.
Schnall-Levin says working at 10x Genomics is an exciting combination of intellect and impact. “You get to work on really interesting technology that is intellectually stimulating and challenging, but it also has a health impact. That's rare,” he notes.