Analyzing Single Cells in Space

Axiom Space recently announced plans for its second International Space Station mission, to be led by astronaut Peggy Whitson and mission pilot John Shoffner. As part of the mission, Peggy and John will conduct life science research in orbit using technology developed by. was developed 10x genomics.

Technology networks
talked to Dr. Ben Hindson, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of 10x Genomics, to learn more about the single cell technology that powers this research and how it’s being adapted for use in space. In this interview, Dr. Hindson also shared some of 10x Genomics’ recent developments in spatial gene expression analysis and how they could help advance research in human health and disease.

Anna MacDonald (AM): What are some of the biggest challenges when performing single cell analysis in space?

Ben Hindson (bra):
We are still at the very beginning of the process here, but we are trying to see what biological information we can uncover by analyzing individual cells in orbit. Our single cell sequencing products are used by all of the top 100 research institutions around the world, and we work to ensure that researchers in space have the same powerful skills to answer questions like long-term human life in space.

The Axiom space mission is slated for the second half of 2022 – so we are working with Axiom in the pre-launch time to understand the challenges of this type of space exploration and develop solutions that can help astronauts like Peggy Whitson, who is trained as a biochemist and even carried out PCR experiments in space.

AM: How are terrestrial single cell genome methods being adapted for use in space? Has 10x Genomics developed special functions for this application?

We’re here very early and hope for more clarity as we work more closely with the Axiom team. We see this as the first step in biological research at the single cell level in space. We are looking for different approaches to research, including collecting samples in space, chemical fixation in space, and performing analysis on Earth. Essentially, we want to find out what works and what doesn’t in order to improve the analysis of cell changes without having to worry about logistics.

We see this exploration as an opportunity to learn more about the human body in space, in weightlessness and on earth.

AM: Can you tell us more about how the technology will be used during the Axiom Space mission?

We haven’t completed the exact projects yet, but studies of osteoporosis and human longevity are areas that we would like to actively explore. For example, we are considering testing single-cell analysis methods in weightlessness and studying gene expression to understand, for example, how bone density is affected by gravity.

AM: What are the advantages of single-cell technologies for scientists and their research?

Our bodies are made up of 40 trillion cells, each with an immensely complex genome, proteome, and interactome that controls trillions of molecules in all sorts of intricate and intricate ways. To address this complexity, we need to measure the biology of individual cells, molecules and their interactions on a large scale and with the correct resolution.

This is where single-cell technologies can help. Our single cell products enable the high throughput analysis of individual biological components up to millions of single cells. With these technologies, we aim to improve the scope and resolution of the study. This can help accelerate discoveries in research areas that require high throughput single cell applications, including drug and CRISPR screenings, large-scale translational studies, cell mapping, antibody discovery, and biomarker identification.
A couple of examples are:

Human cells atlas: The mission here is to use single cell sequencing to create a comprehensive reference map of all human cells in order to understand human health and to diagnose, monitor and treat diseases.

Cystic fibrosis: With our single cell technologies, researchers have identified and characterized a new cell type in the lungs, the pulmonary ionocyte, which leads to the characteristic airway symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

Life extension:
Researchers at Keio University in Tokyo used our single-cell tools to show that people who live to be 110 years or older have a different immune profile than people of normal age.

AM: Can you tell us more about the latest developments in 10x Genomics in spatial gene expression analysis?

We launched our Visium Spatial Gene Expression platform in 2019. We have seen exciting adoption of this technology with over 100 publications and preprints as researchers seek to understand how gene expression varies while maintaining the context of the tissue itself. We recently introduced an extension to the Visium platform that is compatible with FFPE (formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues). FFPE is the most common form of specimen preservation for clinical specimens. This opens up the technology for use with large numbers of samples stored in biobanks and clinics around the world.

AM: How can the ability to perform spatial analysis in preserved tissue help advance research on human health and disease?

We see researchers who have collected cohorts of samples specific to the disease they are studying, be it a particular form of cancer, neurodegenerative disease, or inflammatory disease. Because these samples were collected during clinical care, they are often paired with clinical data as well. Researchers are excited to draw on these sample cohorts and combine rich spatial transcriptome data with their clinical knowledge to understand what drives disease progression and identify promising new therapeutic targets.

Dr. Ben Hindson spoke to Anna MacDonald, science writer for Technology Networks.