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Genome breakthrough allows scientists to identify and profile tumor cells from very small samples
Date:5/6/2010

Brussels, 6 May 2010 -- Researchers from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the USA have developed a powerful new technique for analyzing the genome of single tumor cells. The breakthrough allows them to study in fine detail the biology of how tumors develop and has the potential to help doctors identify dangerous tumor cells from small samples such as fine-needle biopsies from the prostate or a non-invasive lesion in the breast.

Dr James Hicks from Cold Spring Harbor described the new technique at the IMPAKT Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels, Belgium.

"Tumors are complex populations of cells and they are not limited to the tumor mass itself," Dr Hicks said. "By the time a tumor is discovered there are almost certainly thousands of tumor cells in the circulation or hiding in places like bone marrow. The breakthrough here is that we have proven the concept of identifying tumor cells in very small samples and profiling them to see whether they are dangerous. In other words are there small populations of highly rearranged cells among the benign-looking ones?".

A major focus of cancer treatment at present is determining how aggressively to treat patients as methods for early cancer detection improve. The opportunity to use similar techniques to study the basic biology of tumor growth is more academic, but no less important aspect.

The technique developed at Cold Spring Harbor focuses on 'copy number variation' in cancer cells. These are changes to the expected number of copies of large sections of DNA. For example, genes that were thought always to occur in two copies per cell might sometimes be found in one, three or more copies.

Dr Hicks explained: "Most solid tumors, especially breast, lung, liver, bladder and prostate, exhibit varying degrees of chromosomal rearrangement. As cells progress from normal state where there are two copies of each chromosome, to become more cancer-like, they tend to accumulate more and m
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Contact: Vanessa Pavinato
media@esmo.org
European Society for Medical Oncology
Source:Eurekalert

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