Diagnosing, understanding and predicting cell function or dysfunction is a key element toward gaining a better understanding of disease and other threats to human health.

This cellular biology knowledge is essential for developing the link between genomics, cell function and disease. Understanding these interrelationships will aid in the development of diagnostic tools to measure the health status across all dimensions of human health, from defects in single cells to alterations in the normal function of tissues and organs. Such knowledge could lead to the early diagnosis of major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke.

The Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation (CBDA) began as a headquarters to the Microscale Life Sciences Center(MLSC), a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Excellence in Genomic Science. Researchers study different types of cell models to link cell genomics to metabolic and biochemical characteristics. The NIH funding supported the initial work which has been sustained by a variety of follow on funding including grants from the W.M Keck Foundation and federal grants from the NIH.

Traditional population-averaged physiological measurements on large numbers of cells do not adequately capture the mechanisms of disease because gene expression is highly heterogeneous and diseased cells are aberrant. Researchers in the center address cell-to-cell variations in physiological parameters by conducting studies to quantify cellular activities such as respiration and protein expression at the single-cell level. By refining the MLSC’s microsystem-based platforms for measuring gene expression and physiological parameters, research can progress to include cell-cell interaction studies, in vivo tissue measurements and in vivo imaging for detection and monitoring.

CBDA also works on research for the oceans and the environment. The ocean research was inspired by the NEPTUNE project at the University of Washington which became the Regional Scale Nodes project supported by the National Science Foundation to construct a cabled underwater observatory in the northeast Pacific Ocean with high bandwidth and power for real-time oceanographic observations and experiments.  Ongoing work in CBDA includes development of undersea sensorbots to collect and test and transmit data about biological samples from the ocean to research centers.