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Flow cytometry potential applications in characterizing solid tumors main phenotype, heterogeneity and circulating cells

Waeckel Louis, Li Guorong, Berger Anne-Emmanuelle,

Abstract: Flow cytometry (FCM) is a unique technique that allows rapid quantitative measurement of multiple parameters on a large number of cells at the individual level. FCM is based on immunolabelling with fluorochrome-conjugated antibodies, leading to high sensitivity and precision while time effective sample preparation. FCM can be performed on tissue following enzymatic or mechanical dissociation. The expression of epithelial antigens and cytokeratin isoforms help in distinguishing tumor cells from adjacent epithelial cells and from tumor infiltrating leukocytes. Tumor phenotypes can be characterized on expression intensity, aberrancies and presence of tumor-associated antigens as well as their cell proliferation rate and eventual heteroploidy. FCM can measure quantitative expression of hormone or growth factor receptors, immunoregulatory proteins to guide adjuvant therapy. Expression of adhesion molecules tells on tumor’s capacity for tissue invasion and metastasis seeding. Tumor heterogeneity can be explored quantitatively and rare, potentially emerging, clones with poor prognosis can be detected. FCM is easily applicable on fine needle aspiration and in any tumor related biological fluids. FCM can also be used to detect circulating tumor cells (CTC) to assess metastatic potential at diagnosis or during treatment. Detecting CTC could allow early detection of tumors before they are clinically expressed although some difficulties still need to be solved. It thus appears that FCM should be in the pathologist tool box to improve cancer diagnosis, classification and prognosis evaluation as well as in orientating personalized adjuvant therapy and immunotherapy. More developments are still required to better known tumor phenotypes and their potential invasiveness.
Keywords: FCM / antigens / adjuvant therapy / measure quantitative / tissue / Tumor phenotypes / invasiveness / prognosis / antibodies

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