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Microfluidics-Based Single-Cell Functional Proteomics Microchip for Portraying Protein Signal Transduction Networks within the Framework of Physicochemical Principles, with Applications in Fundamental and Translational Cancer Research


Wei, Wei (2014) Microfluidics-Based Single-Cell Functional Proteomics Microchip for Portraying Protein Signal Transduction Networks within the Framework of Physicochemical Principles, with Applications in Fundamental and Translational Cancer Research. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9WS8R7G.


Single-cell functional proteomics assays can connect genomic information to biological function through quantitative and multiplex protein measurements. Tools for single-cell proteomics have developed rapidly over the past 5 years and are providing unique opportunities. This thesis describes an emerging microfluidics-based toolkit for single cell functional proteomics, focusing on the development of the single cell barcode chips (SCBCs) with applications in fundamental and translational cancer research.

The microchip designed to simultaneously quantify a panel of secreted, cytoplasmic and membrane proteins from single cells will be discussed at the beginning, which is the prototype for subsequent proteomic microchips with more sophisticated design in preclinical cancer research or clinical applications. The SCBCs are a highly versatile and information rich tool for single-cell functional proteomics. They are based upon isolating individual cells, or defined number of cells, within microchambers, each of which is equipped with a large antibody microarray (the barcode), with between a few hundred to ten thousand microchambers included within a single microchip. Functional proteomics assays at single-cell resolution yield unique pieces of information that significantly shape the way of thinking on cancer research. An in-depth discussion about analysis and interpretation of the unique information such as functional protein fluctuations and protein-protein correlative interactions will follow.

The SCBC is a powerful tool to resolve the functional heterogeneity of cancer cells. It has the capacity to extract a comprehensive picture of the signal transduction network from single tumor cells and thus provides insight into the effect of targeted therapies on protein signaling networks. We will demonstrate this point through applying the SCBCs to investigate three isogenic cell lines of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

The cancer cell population is highly heterogeneous with high-amplitude fluctuation at the single cell level, which in turn grants the robustness of the entire population. The concept that a stable population existing in the presence of random fluctuations is reminiscent of many physical systems that are successfully understood using statistical physics. Thus, tools derived from that field can probably be applied to using fluctuations to determine the nature of signaling networks. In the second part of the thesis, we will focus on such a case to use thermodynamics-motivated principles to understand cancer cell hypoxia, where single cell proteomics assays coupled with a quantitative version of Le Chatelier's principle derived from statistical mechanics yield detailed and surprising predictions, which were found to be correct in both cell line and primary tumor model.

The third part of the thesis demonstrates the application of this technology in the preclinical cancer research to study the GBM cancer cell resistance to molecular targeted therapy. Physical approaches to anticipate therapy resistance and to identify effective therapy combinations will be discussed in detail. Our approach is based upon elucidating the signaling coordination within the phosphoprotein signaling pathways that are hyperactivated in human GBMs, and interrogating how that coordination responds to the perturbation of targeted inhibitor. Strongly coupled protein-protein interactions constitute most signaling cascades. A physical analogy of such a system is the strongly coupled atom-atom interactions in a crystal lattice. Similar to decomposing the atomic interactions into a series of independent normal vibrational modes, a simplified picture of signaling network coordination can also be achieved by diagonalizing protein-protein correlation or covariance matrices to decompose the pairwise correlative interactions into a set of distinct linear combinations of signaling proteins (i.e. independent signaling modes). By doing so, two independent signaling modes – one associated with mTOR signaling and a second associated with ERK/Src signaling have been resolved, which in turn allow us to anticipate resistance, and to design combination therapies that are effective, as well as identify those therapies and therapy combinations that will be ineffective. We validated our predictions in mouse tumor models and all predictions were borne out.

In the last part, some preliminary results about the clinical translation of single-cell proteomics chips will be presented. The successful demonstration of our work on human-derived xenografts provides the rationale to extend our current work into the clinic. It will enable us to interrogate GBM tumor samples in a way that could potentially yield a straightforward, rapid interpretation so that we can give therapeutic guidance to the attending physicians within a clinical relevant time scale. The technical challenges of the clinical translation will be presented and our solutions to address the challenges will be discussed as well. A clinical case study will then follow, where some preliminary data collected from a pediatric GBM patient bearing an EGFR amplified tumor will be presented to demonstrate the general protocol and the workflow of the proposed clinical studies.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Cancer; microfluidics; single-cell; proteomics; microchip; GBM; brain tumor; signaling network; protein signaling
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Materials Science
Awards:Milton and Frances Clauser Doctoral Prize, 2014
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Heath, James R.
Thesis Committee:
  • Johnson, William L. (chair)
  • Goddard, William A., III
  • Greer, Julia R.
  • Davis, Mark E.
  • Heath, James R.
Defense Date:12 February 2014
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:03062014-172332538
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2. adapted for Chapter 3.
Wei, Wei0000-0002-1018-7708
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8112
Deposited By: Wei Wei
Deposited On:20 Mar 2014 21:03
Last Modified:08 Jan 2020 17:33

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