I'm pleased to share my interview with Anne Carpenter, alongside my co-host Alex Wiltschko from Google AI, on season two of Theory and Practice. Anne invented CellProfiler and designed a method for coloring and analyzing cells. She works at the Broad Institute as the Senior Director of the Imaging Platform and is an Institute Scientist.
In addition to my job at GV, I work with Anne at the Broad Institute. We each lead platforms which are cross-cutting technology capabilities, and we have collaborated on many projects in the past.
One of the things that strikes me about Anne's work is how visionary it is. She started doing this a decade ago or more, at a time when computer vision was not nearly as mature as it is today. The idea that you could just image cells and extract biologically meaningful information from them was not at all obvious when she first started. What's becoming increasingly clear is just how much information there is to be had in the cell images, and its potential for impacting the process of drug discovery. Now, almost every major pharmaceutical company has some kind of high content screening effort. Anne was really a linchpin in proving the value of this technique.
On this season of Theory and Practice we explore one of the arts of being a great biologist – marrying a problem to a solution, and choosing the right biological question and pairing it with the right technology. I was really struck in my discussion with Anne by the work she's done on psychiatric disease. Psychiatric diseases are not just diseases of the brain, they're diseases of the mind. In general, we can't make progress on them by doing MRIs or CAT scans of the brain.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie these diseases is very challenging. The idea that by using fibroblasts from the skin we could actually see hallmarks of schizophrenia, and then also do drug screens — this is an amazing insight to me. It speaks to the interconnectedness of biological processes, such that any one cellular program gets reused over and over again, throughout physiology.