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Single-cell analysis of solid tumors

December 14, 2016 | Heather McCartney

Vanderbilt researchers have pioneered a single-cell technique for solid tumors that have been challenging to characterize because they contain many cell types connected in a matrix.

Mass cytometry detects proteins and signaling events in cells using antibodies tagged with metal reporters and a specialized mass spectrometer. Detecting 35 proteins and revealing signals in rare “1 in 10,000” cells has driven advances in blood cancers and immunology, where single cells are obtained from liquid biopsies.

To get solid tumor cells into the instrument, researchers needed to release the cells from the matrix and tailor sets of antibodies for diverse normal and abnormal cells. Through systematic testing of mechanical disaggregation and enzymatic digestion conditions, Jonathan Irish, Ph.D., and colleagues showed that living cells from solid tumors can be separated and identified by protein signatures. They are now applying this technique to study cells from brain, lung, and skin tumors.

Published in Cytometry Part B: Clinical Cytometry, this study details a valuable new tool for solid tumor and healthy tissue research.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (CA143231, GM062459, CA009592, CA199993, HD007502), Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt International Scholars Program, Vanderbilt University and VICC Ambassadors.