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Mathematical innovation turns blood draw into information gold mine in Stanford study
Date:3/7/2010

racting important information from a blood sample has mushroomed since the advent of the microarray about 15 years ago. A microarray is a man-made, thumbnail-sized grid of DNA on whose surface reside tens of thousands of tiny sensors that can distinguish among different short sequences of nucleic acids the genetic material of all life. Such a chip can be immersed in an extract from living cells, such as blood; then, whenever a sensor on the chip detects a matching nucleic-acid sequence, it transmits a fluorescent signal recording the sequence's presence.

By using microarrays to measure how actively a gene is being "expressed," research scientists can detect medically important alterations in a tissue. As they get steadily cheaper and easier to work with, microarrays are also at the threshold of widespread use as clinical diagnostic devices.

Still, whole blood poses a complication when used as a sample in microarray analyses. "Any 7-year-old can look at a blood sample under a microscope and see it's a mix of a huge number of different kinds of cells," said Butte, who is also director of the Center for Pediatric Bioinformatics at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. A single sample contains dozens of cell types, at different levels of maturity or at different stages of activation. A gene-expression change that, in one cell type, means something has gone terribly wrong may in another cell type be completely benign, or even a sign of needed activation. But a microarray has no way of knowing which kind of cell in the mix a particular nucleic-acid snippet came from.

To make things more difficult, the composition of samples drawn from two different patients or even of two samples drawn at different times from the same patient varies dramatically.

Imagine that a public-opinion analyst, new on the job, were to conduct two national voter-preference surveys before and after a politician's speech, to see if that speech improved or impaired
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Contact: Bruce Goldman
goldmanb@stanford.edu
650-725-2106
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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