Single-Cell Isolation Technology Brings Vision of Personalized Cancer Treatment Closer to Reality
BOLOGNA, Italy, October 26, 2016 - More than 120 researchers, oncologists and pathologists from around the world met October 25th-26th in the modern setting of Bologna’s MAST exhibition center to share the results of their studies toward bringing the vision of personalized cancer treatment closer to reality using the DEPArray™ platform — cutting-edge technology developed by Menarini-Silicon Biosystems that enables researchers to analyze tumor cells from tissue biopsies or a simple blood test with unprecedented precision.
Aimed at deciphering the mechanisms underlying cancer to apply them to daily practice, the conference enabled researchers to exchange their discoveries to bring personalized medicine from bench to bedside. Menarini-Silicon Biosystems also presented its latest generation of cell sorting and isolation system, the DEPArray NxT, optimized to be compact and affordable, allowing more rapid sample analysis and more compatible for clinical application.
"Personalized medicine is now closer to patients thanks to new technologies that allow more accurate molecular analysis," explained Prof. Aldo Scarpa, Director of the ARC-Net Research Centre for Applied Research on Cancer and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Diagnostics at the University and Hospital Trust of Verona in Italy. "We have known for years now that all cancers are not one cancer but different tumor families, each of which has to be treated with different drugs. To understand this heterogeneity is necessary to break down the tumor in its components and analyze them separately.
“DEPArray technology allows us to isolate pure cancer cells from other cell types – even when the starting specimen is very small – to study in detail the genetic characteristics of the tumor. In this way we can be more selective in choosing the right type of drugs targeted to hit the different sub-groups of cells. We were able to analyze tissue biopsies where the percentage of tumor cells was less than 20%. These types of samples would normally be discarded from the analysis. Being able to analyze these samples allows us to identify specific mutations in the tumor and to be able to identify the personalized treatment that can best target that tumor."
The Problem of Tumor Heterogeneity
Every patient’s cancer is different, and even within a single tumor there are different populations of cancer cells that may have distinct genetic characteristics. Exposure to therapeutic agents may also cause changes in cancer cells that may alter the response to drug treatment and make tumor cells resistant to therapy. The heterogeneity of tumors is often the cause of failure of drug therapies and the identification of effective biomarkers.
The scientific community has made great efforts in recent years to solve this problem and achieve a better accuracy in understanding the biology of cancer and its complexity. The goal is to identify biomarkers that have clinical relevance for personalized patient care through continuous monitoring of the progression of the disease and its targeted treatment.
DEPArray technology is a key weapon for deciphering the heterogeneity of tumors. Starting from a minute tumor biopsy, it can isolate and recover individual cells or groups of tumor cells, allowing a complete understanding of tumor biology and a medical decision to apply the most effective treatment. Moreover, the technology allows isolation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) — cancer cells that escape from the primary tumor and enter the blood to spread elsewhere in the body. These cells are important to identify and characterize, especially in those patients where it is very difficult to reach the primary tumor to obtain a tissue biopsy. CTC analysis is useful in predicting the severity and course of the disease and the response to drug treatment.
Prof. Christoph A. Klein, Director of Experimental Medicine and Therapy Research at the University of Regensburg in Germany, is conducting cutting-edge research close to becoming clinical applications. His research group is studying the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor to the sentinel lymph nodes in melanoma patients. In a recently published work, his group has shown the presence of disseminated tumor cells in these tissues is a risk factor for a worse patient prognosis. Traditional manual methods for isolation of cancer cells from the lymph nodes, however, may have low sensitivity and few cancer cells may escape detection.
"Compared to traditional histopathology, our methodology increased more than threefold the detection rate of disseminated cancer cells in lymph nodes of melanoma patients,” said Prof Klein. "We can now translate our method into the clinical practice thanks to the automated detection and isolation of DEPArray technology. This represents a great step forward as it will enable routine patient stratification based on the molecular characterization of these rare tumor cells."
Another cutting-edge field where DEPArray technology occupies a place of excellence is that of liquid biopsy: a blood test that is able to detect CTCs shed from the primary tumors into the blood. These tumor cells contain all the information necessary to understand their genetic mutations, and to identify molecular targets for personalized therapies. The great advantage of this type of analysis is that it allows doctors to follow the evolution of the disease in time with a simple blood draw.
Professor Caroline Dive’s research group at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute is one of the most important in the world studying CTCs in lung cancer. Using DEPArray technology, the researchers were able to isolate single CTCs from patients with small cell lung cancer whose tumors often lead to rapid evolution and the worst prognosis. The molecular characterization of these single cells has allowed Prof. Dive’s group to gain an accurate understanding of the biology of lung cancer, and the basis for developing effective treatments for the disease.
Her team is now about to solve one of the biggest challenges in cancer: how tumors become resistant to drugs. "Our studies open a new horizon in patient care. Starting from a blood sample, we are able to isolate and analyze individual circulating cancer cells and study them with absolute precision using DEPArray technology," said Prof Dive. "The isolation and study of CTCs from patient's blood can provide new crucial information to help monitor the disease and understand how it develops drug resistance. What we do now is just ask for a small volume of the patient's blood to address important questions about the biology of the disease and drug resistance."
Researchers worldwide presented many other works of equal importance on the application of DEPArray technology to study different tumor types such as lung, colorectal, liver, kidney, pancreas and prostate. While this research is in the preclinical phase, it is well advanced and concrete benefits for patient care are around the corner.
About Menarini-Silicon Biosystems — The Single-Cell Precision Company
Menarini-Silicon Biosystems Inc., based in San Diego, Calif. and Bologna, Italy, is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Menarini Group, a multinational pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostics company headquartered in Florence, Italy, with a heritage of over 130 years and over 16,000 employees in more than 100 countries. The company manufactures and sells the DEPArray system, which enables researchers to automatically identify, quantify, and recover individual rare cells with single-cell precision.
For more information visit http://www.siliconbiosystems.com and follow on Twitter @SiliconBio.