University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Are Normal Cells Genetically Identical?

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: Yuan Ji, Department of Health Studies

Funding Type: Seed

Focus Area: Complexity

Big Idea: Most current biological research makes one crucial assumption: healthy tissue samples are homogenous, containing groups of cells with similar DNA.  New evidence suggests that this assumption may not reveal a complete picture, and a single biological sample may actually contain different cells types with different genomes.  Tumors provide the best recognized example of this genomic variance, exhibiting this type of heterogeneity among cells in the same tumor, but what if it could be found in other cells, also, such as normal human cells?  Little is known about this emerging phenomenon, but the implications are profound; a deeper understanding could lead to both more specific research techniques as well as better knowledge of the causes and progression of various diseases in which this same heterogeneity is exhibited.  Using a combination of novel sequencing and robust statistical models, a proposal from Yuan Ji strives to pursue this theory with samples extracted from healthy individuals. Once the progression and degree of this heterogeneity is better understood, research can focus more on individual cells rather than homogenous samples, providing better differentiation, giving rise to more precise disease diagnosis and prognosis, and resulting in more complex and diverse data.

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