“It seems like an interesting technology,” says Yale University hematology-oncology specialist Madhav Dhodapkar. Despite the technology’s promise, however, he notes that problems can arise when tumor cells are removed from the environment that surrounds them inside the body. “We should not lose track of the complexity of cancer,” Dhodapkar says. “A tumor cell separated from its microenvironment does not have the same biology, so studying interactions by taking cells out of their microenvironment has caveats.”
Dhodapkar still believes the technology holds great promise for immunologists, cell biologists, and other researchers. “I think the biggest advantage of this technology may very well be that it will allow an opportunity to ask really detailed questions of cell-to-cell interactions that otherwise are much harder to do,” he says. “If it pans out, it could be a very useful tool. Not just for cancer but for many other platforms.”
That’s precisely what Bocchi is hoping. “When we completed the project, we observed that the tool wasn’t just for immunology but a more general platform that could run a large number of applications,” he says. Among other uses, he points to gene therapy and even the study of microalgae–one of the great biofuel hopes.
In 2006, just as COCHISE was getting off the ground, Bocchi started a company called MindSeeds to develop and commercialize the technology. Before it can go much further, the company still needs to find ways to scale up the technology–its automated platform currently examines only one cell at a time–and to standardize the technology so that every experiment can be repeated to yield the same results. “Because we’re not bound to a specific type of cell, we can potentially address several markets, and several fields,” Bocchi says.