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Unravel the complexity of cancer

In the past decade, single-cell sequencing has become a valuable and powerful tool for researchers across the globe.

This technology has provided vital new insights in many research disciplines, including cancer biology.

This article looks at some of the applications of single-cell sequencing within the cancer research field.

Study tumor heterogeneity

For some time now, scientists have been aware that cancer is not just a simple homogeneous disease.

Tumors are usually very heterogeneous and consist of various cancer cell subtypes. Some of these subtypes can drive tumor growth, while others may drive metastasis or resistance to treatment.

Single-cell transcriptomic data can help to identify these different tumor cell subtypes, determine which cells are driving which processes, and which genes are involved.

Identify cells within the tumor microenvironment

Research tells us that tumors are not isolated entities within the body, but need a particular microenvironment in order to thrive.

Different cells or structures within this tumor microenvironment can support and even accelerate cancer processes.

The tumor microenvironment may include blood and lymphatic vessels, immune cells, adipose cells, neuroendocrine cells, fibroblasts, and extracellular matrix.

Single-cell sequencing can provide a greater understanding of the composition of the tumor microenvironment and the behavior of cells within this microenvironment.

This is essential to understanding cancer processes and developing personalized cancer treatments.

Understand tumor-specific immune responses

The activity of immune cells within a tumor can be crucial to the prognosis of a patient. The presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), for example, has been linked to favorable outcomes.

Single-cell sequencing of isolated tumor immune cells can provide important information on the way the immune system interacts with tumors, and how this interaction affects tumor growth and disease outcome.

Accelerate translational research

In the development of new cancer treatments, many compounds are tested, and many discarded along the way.

Compound testing using in vivo studies is expensive, labor-intensive, and often doesn’t reflect the true potential of a drug.

Single-cell sequencing makes it possible to study at high resolution the effects of compounds on different tumor cell types.

This can help to make an early distinction in the potential of a given compound.

Single-cell sequencing is also a powerful tool in biomarker research, for example to determine if there are biomarkers that correlate with responding versus resistant cancer cells.

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