October 26, 2016

Single-cell study of tumor samples

A new method for analyzing cells in fixed biopsy tissues from patients by guide personalized treatment strategies for cancer.

Single-cell immunofluorescence in samples from colon biopsies. (Alan J. Simmons, Vanderbilt University)
Single-cell immunofluorescence in specimens from colon biopsies. (Alan J. Simmons, Vanderbilt University)

The presence of various cell types in tumors – cellular heterogeneity – makes treatment challenging, since a therapy may kill one cell type but not affect another. Studying heterogeneous cell populations requires single-cell analysis.

Ken Lau, Ph.D., and colleagues previously described a method for preparing single-cell suspensions from epithelial tissues – the type of tissue from which many diseases arise. Now, they have extended this analysis to formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) specimens present in repositories of clinical patient samples.

They used the technique, called FFPE-DISSECT (disaggregation for intracellular signaling in single epithelial cells from tissue), to study human colon specimens. The analysis confirmed reduced differentiation in colorectal cancer compared to normal colon and revealed changes in the regulation of specific signaling pathways.

The approach, featured as the Oct. 11 cover story in Science Signaling, will enable detailed characterization of embedded human tumor samples to study how cellular heterogeneity contributes to tumor behavior and responds to treatment. The findings may guide personalized treatment strategies for cancer.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants DK103831, TR000445, CA068485, DK058404, CA095103, CA159988, CA174377, CA143231), the American Association for Cancer Research – Landon Foundation, and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

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