Cancer behaves according to the cell type from which it originates. Treatments tailor-made for different cancers can be more effective than a blanket approach which can kill healthy cells. This relies on identifying the original cell type. Cancer cells shed from their source can metastasize [traffic to other organs] and occasionally these secondary cancers are detected without ever finding the source. Pink and purple dyes (left) help to highlight the enlarged cancer cells in this patient sample (< 1 mm across). But to reveal the cancer’s origin, requires immunohistochemistry. A sliver of tumour tissue is flooded with a specialised antibody, a protein that paints the cells brown only when it binds to its specific target. This tumour (right) contains a breast-specific protein, mammaglobin. In this study scientists developed a ’protein fingerprint’ based on several antibodies, which identified the primary cancer type and so informed its best treatment.
Written by Claire Worrall
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