Single Cell Analysis Used to Identify Hidden Cancer Cells

Single Cell Analysis Used to Identify Hidden Cancer Cells

An international team of researchers has used single cell analysis techniques to identify and characterize rogue cancer cells that survive chemotherapy.

Tumors may be destroyed using chemotherapy, but rogue cancer cells often survive resulting in the growth of further tumors. While cancer treatments can be highly effective, it is rarely possible to eradicate all cancerous cells from a patient.

Tumors are comprised of several different cell types, including cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells drive the growth of tumors and are believed to be involved in relapses after chemotherapy. The problem is that if those cells survive cancer treatment, they can be difficult to find as they hide in normal, healthy tissues.

An International team of scientists, led by professor Adam Mead of the University of Oxford and professor Sten Eirik Jacobsen of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, has developed a single cell analysis technique for identifying and characterizing individual cancer cells. The team used their technique to analyze thousands of individual cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia before and after treatment.

Cancer stem cells are highly resistant to current cancer treatments and often survive and cause relapses when treatment stops. It is the differences in cancer cells, called intratumoural heterogeneity, that is believed to be behind the different responses to treatments.

Having identified individual cancer cells, it will be possible to analyze those cell types more effectively and devise new treatments targeting a range of specific cells.

The researchers believe the single cell analysis technique could be adapted to analyze cells from a wide range of different cancers and could help oncologists predict the likelihood of a patient responding well to a specific cancer treatment.

The researchers hope that after analyzing individual cancer cells it should be possible to tailor treatments for individual patients and target every type of cancer stem cell present in the patient.

The study – Single-cell transcriptomics uncovers distinct molecular signatures of stem cells in chronic myeloid leukemia – was recently published in Nature Medicine.

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