Dr. Steinmetz et al. at the Centre for Genomic Regulation and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have produced a new single-cell transcription method, MutaSeq, that identifies healthy stem cells versus cancer stem cells. Tissues such as the intestinal lining and bone marrow/blood depend on stem cell populations to maintain their populations because the cells there constantly need to be replaced. So, if a stem cell’s differentiation path gets blocked, it can’t make more healthy body cells and it starts making cancer cells. The problem is that we originally didn’t know the distinguishing markers of cancer stem cells. We could tell the difference between a normal body cell and a cancer cell based on whether or not they had cancerous mutations, but the differences between a cancer stem cell and a regular stem cell were more tricky to discern. This is because it comes down to gene expression instead of whether or not the stem cell’s genes are mutated. MutaSeq can figure this out by reading thousands of a cell’s RNAs at the same time. Once it identifies a stem cell, researchers can do a bit more sequencing and comparisons to tell whether or not the stem cell is cancerous. With these complex molecular profiles, we can not only find the main players causing trouble in the body, but also probe these cancer stem cells for unique weaknesses.
For those interested, here is the study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21650-1