Making a big thing of a small cell – recent advances in single cell analysis
Single cell analysis is an emerging field requiring a high level interdisciplinary collaboration to provide detailed insights into the complex organisation, function and heterogeneity of life. This review is addressed to life science researchers as well as researchers developing novel technologies. It covers all aspects of the characterisation of single cells (with a special focus on mammalian cells) from morphology to genetics and different omics-techniques to physiological, mechanical and electrical methods. In recent years, tremendous advances have been achieved in all fields of single cell analysis: (1) improved spatial and temporal resolution of imaging techniques to enable the tracking of single molecule dynamics within single cells; (2) increased throughput to reveal unexpected heterogeneity between different individual cells raising the question what characterizes a cell type and what is just natural biological variation; and (3) emerging multimodal approaches trying to bring together information from complementary techniques paving the way for a deeper understanding of the complexity of biological processes. This review also covers the first successful translations of single cell analysis methods to diagnostic applications in the field of tumour research (especially circulating tumour cells), regenerative medicine, drug discovery and immunology.