Their method looks at cells one at a time as they start trying to fight the invading pathogens.
Called the Microscale Immune Studies Laboratory (MISL) Grand Challenge, the work is in its second of three years of funding by the internal Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. Sandia is partnering on the project with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratory.
Singh says the researchers are interested in studying the early events in immune response when a pathogen invades a body. Understanding the early steps could lead to better ways to diagnose and stop disease before there are symptoms and development of more effective therapeutics.
Most existing research into how immune cells respond has been done by looking at large cell populations. The Sandia researchers say information gathered from a large population of cells may mask underlying mechanisms at the individual cell level.
"Cells have different life cycles, just like any living being. And not all cells are exposed to the pathogen at the same time," Singh says. "We wanted to look at cells in the same life cycle and same infectious state. This can only be done cell by cell. We also want to study populations, but one cell at a time."
The research is possible because of advances in several Sandia-developed tools, including: