Circulating Cells In Cancer Patients’ Blood Not Always Cancerous

Contrary to the decades-long belief that these cells are always malignant, researchers have found that they may also come from the blood vessels that line the tumor, rather than from the tumor itself.

AsianScientist (Jul. 12, 2016) – For decades, clusters of cells commonly found in the blood of cancer patients have always been regarded as cancerous cells that have broken off from the primary tumor.

Now, in a study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore have discovered that these cells originate from the blood vessels that line the tumor, rather than from the tumor itself.

Due to the technical challenges of separating these clusters from normal blood cells, limited research has been performed on these cell clusters. The research team, led by Dr. Tan Min-Han, team leader and principal research scientist at IBN, set out to comprehensively study these circulating cell clusters at the level of a single cell in 80 colorectal cancer patients.

They first separated the cell clusters from the patients’ blood samples using a custom-designed microdevice. Next, they used high throughput DNA and RNA sequencing and computational modeling to determine the identity of these cells. Their results confirmed that in colorectal cancer, these circulating cell clusters are endothelial cells from the blood vessels lining the tumor, as opposed to being cancer cells.

Unexpectedly, the researchers also discovered more endothelial cell clusters in colorectal cancer patients who have not received any treatment, compared to those who have received treatment, suggesting that these cells could be used for early-stage cancer detection.

“Scientific orthodoxy has maintained for decades that these cell clusters commonly observed in cancer patients were malignant tumor cells. In contrast, we found that these cell clusters are not malignant, but come from the blood vessels lining the tumor that presumably peeled off during blood flow through the tumor,” said Tan.

“This insight requires a reconsideration of decades of data, and gives scientists new opportunities to investigate and starve the cancer through drugs that manipulate the blood vessels of tumors.”

The next stage of this research is to determine if the same finding applies to other types of cancer besides colorectal cancer, and to develop new liquid biopsy technologies for cancer detection and drug treatment based on these circulating cell clusters.

The article can be found at: Cima et al. (2016) Tumor-Derived Circulating Endothelial Cell Clusters in Colorectal Cancer.


Source: Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.
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