According to the American Cancer Society, the estimated number of new cases of invasive cancer expected in the United States this year a is 1,762,450 — the equivalent of more than 4,700 new diagnoses each day. The enormity of these numbers makes it no surprise that cancer treatment is an ever-evolving field, with clinical researchers and clinicians constantly striving to improve diagnostics and treatment.
Immuno-oncology (I/O)-based therapies, an approach that employs the body’s own immune system to target and attack a disease, are poised to have a big impact on the medical field. As we speak, there are more than 3,394 I/O treatments in some stage of development, according to a study from the Cancer Research Institute.
Within the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way clinical researchers view and treat cancerous tumors. What was once seen as one big mass of the same cell is now viewed as micromasses of several cells. Because it was discovered that a person’s unique immune system can impact these cells, two formerly disparate medical fields — cancer research and immunotherapy — have become interrelated. Different cell types and microenvironments within tumors are being studied to discover their interactions with the immune system. Patient tumor samples are precious, and there is high value for obtaining as much information as possible from a single sample.
This is concisely summarized in a 2018 research paper: “The introduction in the clinical practice of several new approaches to cancer immunotherapy has greatly increased the interest in analytical methodologies that can define the immunological profile of patients in the clinical setting. This requires [a] huge effort to obtain reliable monitoring tools that could be used to improve the patient’s clinical outcome.”
There are a variety of analytical technologies currently utilized for disease monitoring and treatment in this space.
Imaging tools — some of which can image non-invasively with the use of bioluminescence, while others require an extracted sample from a patient — allow researchers to visually identify and understand the types of cells in the samples.
Gene-expression and gene-editing tools like PCR and CRISPR help researchers understand the genetic code underlying cancerous cells and normal cells. These tools can be used to reprogram a cell’s functions by modifying its genetic code.
Flow cytometers have become a standard tool in I/O research, where their ability to profile several cell subsets in a single assay of whole blood can be used to evaluate therapies such as checkpoint inhibitors, adoptive cell therapies and cancer vaccines. Until recently, flow cytometry technology was not advanced enough or was too cost-prohibitive to analyze more than 20 fluorescent labels at one time.
Recently, some flow cytometry manufacturers have been leveraging technology from other industries to increase the power of onboard optical systems while reducing overall cost. Our company developed a system that is uniquely suited to the I/O industry because it incorporates a full-spectrum technology to enable the use of up to 40 fluorescent-labeled antibodies to identify multiple cell populations and sub-populations in a single sample.
Newer flow cytometry systems are being incorporated more and more into the researcher’s toolset because they have become more powerful, cost-effective and easier to use. Other companies using newer flow cytometry systems include Agilent, Beckman Coulter, Becton Dickinson, Fluidigm, Luminex and Thermo Fisher Scientific, to name a few. Indeed, systems such as these are driving the flow cytometry market to grow to an estimated $ 8.92 billion by 2026, according to a Grand View Research report.
Given the rapid developments of research tools and pre-clinical applications in the I/O field, we are excited to see how these disease monitoring technologies will continue to evolve and help control — and eventually eliminate — invasive cancer from patients around the world.