The collaboration between Ryan Bailey, PhD, and Tamas Ordog, MD, began in 2012 when Professor Bailey visited the Mayo Clinic on behalf of the Mayo‐Illinois Alliance. At the time, Dr. Ordog was facing a challenge performing epigenomic analysis on small cell populations and he and Bailey started to discuss microfluidic approaches that might be enabling for these applications.
The collaboration between Ryan Bailey, PhD, and Tamas Ordog, MD, began in 2012 when Prof. Bailey visited the Mayo Clinic on behalf of the Mayo‐Illinois Alliance. At the time, Dr. Ordog was facing a challenge performing epigenomic analysis on small cell populations and he and Prof. Bailey started to discuss microfluidic approaches that might be enabling for these applications.
“A couple of minutes into our initial discussion it was evident we should work together to develop techniques that could enable the application of epigenomic technology to single cells and thus open up new avenues in basic research and facilitate the effective use of epigenomics in clinical practice,” Ordog says.
It was clear from this first meeting that the strengths of their labs were complementary. Dr. Ordog is the Director of the Epigenomics Program within the Center for Individualized Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and his team has expertise in the development and validation of epigenomic tools for translational and clinical research. Dr. Bailey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Illinois, and his lab has expertise in developing advanced bioanalytical technologies.
“We view the epigenomic challenges at hand through different lenses—clinical/translational versus a science/engineering perspective. I think we both provide balance and new thoughts on what is really needed and what is realistically achievable,” says Bailey.
Together, Bailey and Ordog are developing a method termed nanoliter‐scale chromatin immunocapture (nChIC) that will become the basis for a “lab‐on‐a‐chip” device capable of detecting specific sequences of DNA or RNA that interact with target proteins in very small input samples of whole cells or human biopsy material. The nChIC method will be a great improvement over chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), the current method for epigenomic profiling. nChIC will use a microfluidic system to automate the sample preparation and immunocapture steps, allowing for multiple immunocapture steps to be performed in parallel. This will greatly increase the throughput while requiring an extremely small amount of cells (<100). Ultimately, a device such as this could be used tounderstand biological processes like development, aging, oncogenesis, and complex diseases like cancer or diabetes.
Bailey and Ordog have not only shared ideas and methods through this collaboration; they have also shared research personnel. Postdoctoral Research Associate Joshua Tice spent 10 weeks at the Mayo Clinic, learning state‐of‐the‐art ChIP methodologies from Dr. Jeong‐Heon Lee and Dr. Zhiguo Zhang in the Epigenomics Program’s Development Laboratory before returning to Bailey’s lab to work on developing the droplet microfluidic approach. Undergraduate researchers Mallika Modak and Amy Oreskovic both completed Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship projects in Ordog’s lab, and upon return to Bailey’s lab at Illinois were able to pick up where they left off in working on the nanoscale chromatin capture method.
Bailey and Ordog contribute much of their collaborative success to the incredible amount of complementary resources and expertise between the two institutions, and their ability to fuse emerging technologies with clinical challenges. They also recognize the importance of clear communication and an understanding of the scope of the collaborative effort as well as the roles of each investigator. Bailey also stresses the importance of meeting in person. He says, “Electronic and telephone conversations are important, but in my experience, face‐to‐face meetings are what really cements collaborative projects.”
With support from the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance, Bailey and Ordog have been able to generate preliminary data for an R21 grant submission to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. They hope to continue developing this technology to translate a fully‐functional device into the clinical setting.