An international team of scientists led by Raza Ali (Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute) and including Carlos Caldas (Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Department of Oncology) has developed intricate maps of breast tumour samples, with a resolution smaller than a single cell. The research was funded by an ambitious £20 million CRUK Grand Challenge Award and was recently published in Nature Cancer.
These maps show how the complex cancer landscape, made up of cancer cells, immune cells and connective tissue, varies between and within tumours, depending on their genetic makeup. The researchers studied 483 different tumour samples to identify the presence of 37 key proteins, indicative of the characteristics and behaviour of cancer cells. Using imaging mass cytometry, they produced detailed images, which revealed precisely how each of the 37 proteins were distributed across the tumour.
The researchers then combined this information with vast amounts of genetic data from each patient’s sample to further enhance the image resolution. This is the first time imaging mass cytometry has been paired with genomic data. These tumour ‘blueprints’ expose the distribution of different types of cells, their individual characteristics and the interactions between them.
By matching these pictures of tumours to clinical information from each patient, the team also found that the technique could be used predict how someone’s cancer might progress and respond to different treatments, which could facilitate further opportunity for personalised treatments.