The National Institutes of Health has selected 5 winners for Phase 1 of its Follow that Cell  Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to stimulate the development of new tools and methods that will enable researchers to predict the behavior and function of a SINGLE CELL in a complex tissue over time. The Challenge solvers proposed ways to analyze the dynamic state of a SINGLE LIVING CELL  and examine its function over time. Breakthroughs may ultimately allow researchers and doctors to identify infected cells or cells that are resistant to certain drugs or cells that may become cancerous. One of the five winners was the project by James Eberwine which includes Prof. Ülo Langel, Department of Neurochemistry, Stockholm University, as one of the few team members. This group has accomplished the feat to look into a living cell and follow the transcription of its DNA into mRNAs, a necessary step in making new proteins. The half life of most proteins is between minutes and days, while cells may live for years, and neurons that the team studied stay with us for our entire life. So this means that new proteins have to be continuously produced, in order for an adult neuron to function through our entire life span.

It is worth noting that NIH spends 30.3 billion dollars this year on ca 140.000 projects. Thus winning a specific challenge as Langel did together with Eberwine and four other groups is an outstanding achievement that reflects great originality and innovation in addressing a very important problem central for further development of medical sciences. Eberwine and Langel do indeed deserve great credit for this achievement, and their win reflects well on their universities,  University of Pennsylvania, the oldest Medical School of the US and University of Stockholm, respectively.

The text bellow is NIH announcement,

BLINKER assessed live cell transcriptomics

James Eberwine, Ph. D., (team lead), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ülo Langel Ph. D., Professor, Department of Neurochemistry, University of Stockholm

This solution proposes the development of a sensor called Blinker to visualize the transcription of genes in real time in live neurons. The sensor is comprised of a peptide that produces a detectable flash when bound to a specific sequence on a newly transcribed mRNA molecule. For any given mRNA molecule, the distance between flashes will be different and this unique pattern can be used to identify the gene that is being expressed. The ability to visualize and identify the synthesis of many mRNA molecules over a period of minutes could yield important information about which genes are important during long-term potentiation and how the expression of certain genes affects the responsiveness of neurons to drugs.