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New Advances Could Battle Cancer Cell by Cell

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Breaking complex cancers down to the single-cell level to study the key signaling events needed for the disease to form and progress may hold hope for improved diagnoses and treatments in the future, a new report says.

Researchers studying juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML) now say taking advantage of recent advances in flow cytometry, a technique that allows detailed examination of individual cells, may allow them to simultaneously measure cell type and signaling pathways.

Their findings were published in the October issue of Cancer Cell.

Flow cytometry helped the researchers profile signaling at the single cell level in young children with JMML, an aggressive disorder that is difficult to diagnose and has a complex molecular profile. The findings included a STAT5 signaling signature in most of the JMML patients, suggesting a critical role for JAK-STAT signaling in the biological mechanism of this cancer and suggesting potential targets for future therapies.

"This work successfully used single-cell profiling to follow patients over time and show that disease status in JMML -- at diagnosis, remission, relapse and transformation -- was indicated by a subset of cells with an abnormal signaling profile," co-lead study author Mignon L. Loh, from the University of California, San Francisco, Children's Hospital and the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a news release issued by the journal's publisher.

"By measuring how signaling proteins respond to certain stimuli at diagnosis and which are modified by resistant cancers, we are essentially monitoring key highways that cancers use to drive their own growth," co-lead author Garry P. Nolan of Stanford University School of Medicine said in the news release. "The advantage of diagnosing a patient's cancer at the single-cell level provides us an approach for early detection of cancer and yield insights into how cancer cells are responding or adapting to therapy.

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