EMBL team leader Theodore Alexandrov develops tools to investigate spatial aspects of metabolism. His team has developed a technology to detect small molecules, metabolites, and lipids in individual cells, and link this molecular information to cell states and spatial behaviour. Alexandrov explains: “We developed a method to overlay microscopy images of cells with their molecular profiles sampled using a laser. Just a few years ago, this would have been in the realm of science fiction, because of how tiny cells are. New discoveries about metabolic states of individual cells can be beneficial in applications where a single cell can be a game changer, such as in cancer, immunity or infection.” The method has received a lot of interest from funding agencies and potential collaborators, both in research and industry. This got Alexandrov and his team thinking about commercialisation. ATTRACT gave them an opportunity to pursue this.
“We need pragmatic, applied developments to make this method work outside our lab, and to make it more high-throughput,” says Alexandrov, “and this is normally hard to get funding for.” Together with DKFZ (the German Cancer Research Center), a key collaborator in the project, the team is investigating how a high-fat diet triggers inflammation in the liver, and how drugs can help curb this inflammation and thus prevent the formation of liver cancer. This technology has the potential to advance biomedical discovery in cancer, immunity and infection, as well as to facilitate the development of new drugs.
EMBL is Europe’s flagship laboratory for the life sciences. Established in 1974 as an intergovernmental organisation, EMBL is supported by over 20 member states. EMBL performs fundamental research in molecular biology, studying the story of life. The institute offers services to the scientific community; trains the next generation of scientists and strives to integrate the life sciences across Europe. EMBL is international, innovative and interdisciplinary. Its more than 1700 staff, from over 80 countries, operate across six sites in Barcelona (Spain), Grenoble (France), Hamburg (Germany), Heidelberg (Germany), Hinxton (UK) and Rome (Italy). EMBL scientists work in independent groups and conduct research and offer services in all areas of molecular biology. EMBL research drives the development of new technology and methods in the life sciences. The institute works to transfer this knowledge for the benefit of society.