​Dr Kong Say Li (left) and Dr Li Huipeng led the development of CORTAD-seq. The tool will help scientists understand how cancer cells mutate and develop drug resistance.PHOTO: GENOME INSTITUTE OF SINGAPORE

Shabana Begum, The Straits Times

Scientists here have developed a tool to better identify and understand activities in individual cancer cells.

Not every cancer cell in a tumour is alike, which makes it vital for researchers to identify unique DNA changes in each cell. When the cells mutate, the tumour may develop resistance towards treatments.

With current technology, it is challenging to sequence a single cell's DNA and analyse the activities of the genes.

A team from the Genome Institute of Singapore, the National Cancer Centre Singapore and biomedical technology firm Fluidigm Corporation has invented a new tool that can accurately test for mutations and take snapshots of gene activities in every cell.

The CORTAD-seq technology - which stands for COncurrent single cell RNA and TArgeted DNA sequencing - was developed on a microfluidic platform. The device processes small quantities of fluid for scientists to analyse each cell.

The team's invention and findings were published in international journal Clinical Chemistry in December.

The tool will help scientists uncover mysteries in cancer cells, such as how they mutate and develop drug resistance. The team is using it to track evolving gene activities and DNA changes in samples derived from pancreatic cancer patients.