Single cell sequencing is a powerful technology that uses a machine to separate thousands to millions of cells and sequence the genetic material of each cell independently. This increases the resolution of the cellular differences within a diverse population of cells, such as in a tumor.
As one example, in a recent study using single cell sequencing of 300,000 lung cancer cells, researchers evaluated the functional impact of a range of alterations in common cancer-causing genes such as TP53 and KRAS. By analyzing the resulting changes in the RNA levels, the researchers aim to better understand how different mutations in the two genes contribute to cancer development.
Other groups have sequenced RNA instead of DNA, which gives an accurate perspective on what a cell is doing functionally. These data can compare how RNA molecules are expressed in a tumor differently when compared to a healthy cell and this knowledge can help clinicians make decisions on treatment strategies.
In one study of HBV-associated hepatocellular carcinoma, researchers sequenced the RNA of both the tumor cells and the immune cells to understand how spatial interactions between these cell populations changed, which can lead to evasion of cancer cells from the immune system.
These are exciting findings that will one day be captured in the cancer registry!