Researchers can use a new technique to analyze the genome of single tumor cells from small samples, according to a study presented at the IMPAKT Breast Cancer Conference.

The technique, developed at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is designed to help scientists identify tumor cells in very small samples and profile them to see whether they are malignant or not.

In background information provided in the paper, James Hicks, MD, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory explained that “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 more rearrangements that can be seen as copy number changes. The genetic history of a tumor cell is written in its DNA and much of that information can be extracted from its copy-number profile.”

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In their report, the study’s researchers discussed the workings of the ‘single nucleus sequencing’ method (SNS), a method for enhancing tumor cells from small parts of tumor specimens and determining the patterns in individual cells.

Dr. Hicks revealed that through the use of SNS, the team was able to show the pathway of genetic changes that happened as two breast carcinomas developed.

“By profiling over 100 individual cells from a single tumor, we have obtained evidence that as cancer cells initiate their progression they undergo drastic changes, sometimes losing as much as 25% of their genomic DNA through massive deletions, yet are still able to establish clones of identical cells that occupy large portions of the tumor mass,” Dr. Hicks explained. “Ultimately, at least three major populations of cells, all genetically related, were found to occupy one particular tumor mass. We are now working to understand which of these cells can g on to form distant metastases.”