Kelly Gardner: Improving the Western blot

Kelly Gardner

Kelly Gardner (Photo by Noah Berger)

There’s a vast field of bioengineers who study proteins at the single-cell level — measuring these proteins is vital to understanding and targeting disease. But they’re much more challenging to measure than DNA because they can’t be amplified — you need to measure the molecules that are actually in the cell. For decades, bioengineers have used a technique called Western blot technology, but it’s had its limits. Kelly Gardner (Ph.D.’13 BioE) developed a benchtop instrument, now a ProteinSimple product called Milo, that allows researchers to search for specific proteins in about 1,000 single cells at once. “People who are doing conventional Westerns can’t see heterogeneity, because they’re looking at a bulk level,” she says. “Milo gives you access to identify subpopulations.”

Gardner, who developed the idea while working in Professor Amy Herr’s lab at Berkeley, was named one of the Top Innovators Under 35 of 2016 by MIT Technology Review, and a 2016 World Technology Award finalist in Health & Medicine. Gardner further developed the technology in the startup she cofounded, Zephyrus Biosciences, which was acquired by Bio-Techne in 2016. The invention was named the Top Innovation of 2016 by The Scientist and that year received the Scientists’ Choice Award for Best New Life Sciences Product of the Year at AACR.

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