Single cell sequencing sheds light on why cancers form in specific cell types

University of Illinois Cancer Center member Maxim Frolov, PhD, and his graduate student, Majd Ariss, have developed a single-cell sequencing instrument to isolate cells of the eye in developing fruit flies, which the lab uses as a model system to study gene expression changes caused by mutations in the retinoblastoma tumor gene. The study’s findings have been published in Nature Communications.

Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer that begins in the retina. It is most commonly found in children, and is rare, with an estimated 200 to 300 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year.

Mutations in the retinoblastoma (RB) tumor suppressor gene, which normally blocks abnormal cell growth and division, gives rise to retinoblastoma. Retinoblastoma arises in specialized retinal cells called cone cells, which collect light. Why this kind of cancer always starts in cone cells is unknown. But if scientists can get a clearer, more accurate view of the downstream effects of RB mutations in cone cells versus other cells in the retina, they may identify unique therapeutic targets that can prevent or treat retinoblastoma with laser-like precision.

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