Cancer Biology


Protocols in Current Issue
Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 680 Views Jan 20, 2023

Primary hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC)-derived megakaryocytes are a valuable tool for translational research interrogating disease pathogenesis and developing new therapeutic avenues for patients with hematologic disorders including myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Thrombopoietin (TPO)-independent proliferation and megakaryocyte differentiation play a central role in the pathogenesis of essential thrombocythemia and myelofibrosis, two MPN subtypes that are characterized by increased numbers of bone marrow megakaryocytes and somatic mutations in either JAK2, CALR, or MPL. However, current culture strategies generally use healthy HSPCs for megakaryocyte production and are not optimized for the investigation of TPO-independent or TPO-hypersensitive growth and megakaryocyte-directed differentiation of primary patient–derived HSPCs. Here, we describe a detailed protocol covering all necessary steps for the isolation of CD34+ HSPCs from the peripheral blood of MPN patients and the subsequent TPO-independent differentiation into CD41+ megakaryocytes using both a collagen-based colony assay and a liquid culture assay. This protocol provides a novel, reproducible, and cost-effective approach for investigating megakaryocyte growth and differentiation properties from primary MPN patient cells that can be easily adapted for research on other megakaryocyte-related disorders.

Graphical abstract

Schematic representation of the isolation of CD34+ progenitor cells and subsequent TPO-independent megakaryocyte differentiation

0 Q&A 2422 Views Apr 20, 2022

Three-dimensional culture of human normal colorectal epithelium and cancer tissue as organoids and tumoroids has transformed the study of diseases of the large intestine. A widely used strategy for generating patient-derived colorectal organoids and tumoroids involves embedding cells in domes of extracellular matrix (ECM). Despite its success, dome culture is not ideal for scalable expansion, experimentation, and high-throughput screening applications. Our group has developed a protocol for growing patient-derived colorectal organoids and tumoroids in low-viscosity matrix (LVM) suspension culture. Instead of embedding colonic crypts or tumor fragments in solid ECM, these are grown suspended in medium containing only a low percentage of ECM. Compared with dome cultures, LVM suspension culture reduces the labor and cost of establishing and passaging organoids and tumoroids, enables rapid expansion, and is readily adaptable for high-throughput screening.

Graphical abstract:

Generation of organoids and tumoroids from human large intestine using LVM suspension culture (Created with

0 Q&A 1417 Views Mar 20, 2022

Ex vivo culture of primary acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells is notoriously difficult due to spontaneous differentiation and cell death, which hinders mechanistic and translational studies. To overcome this bottleneck, we have implemented a co-culture system, where the OP9-M2 stromal cells support the growth, but most notably limit the differentiation of primary AML cells, thus allowing for mechanistic studies in vitro. Additionally, the co-culture on OP9-M2 stromal is superior in preserving surface marker expression of primary (adult and pediatric) AML cells in comparison to stroma-free culture. Thus, by combining the co-culture with multicolor, high-throughput FACS, we can evaluate the effect of hundreds of small molecules on multi-parametric processes including: cell survival, stemness (leukemic stem cells), and myeloid differentiation on the primary AML cells at a single-cell level. This method streamlines the identification of potential therapeutic agents, but also facilitates combinatorial screening aiming, for instance, at dissecting the regulatory pathways in a patient-specific manner.

Graphic abstract:

Schematic representation of the ex vivo small molecule screening of primary human acute myeloid leukemia. Irradiated, sub-confluent OP9-M2 stromal cells are plated in half-area 96 wells plates 4–16 h prior to adding primary AML cells. Compounds are added 36–48 h later and effects on cell number, leukemic stem cell population, and myeloid differentiation are quantifed by FACS after 4 days of treatment.

0 Q&A 2632 Views Dec 20, 2021

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a highly heterogenous blood cancer, in which the expansion of aberrant myeloid blood cells interferes with the generation and function of normal blood cells. Although key driver mutations and their associated inhibitors have been identified in the last decade, they have not been fully translated into better survival rates for AML patients, which remain dismal. In addition to DNA mutation, studies in mouse models strongly suggest that the cell of origin, where the driver mutation (such as MLL fusions) occurs, emerges as an additional factor that determines the treatment outcome in AML. To investigate its functional relevance in human disease, we have recently reported that AML driven by MLL fusions can transform immunophenotypically and functionally distinctive human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) or myeloid progenitors resulting in immunophenotypically indistinguishable human AML. Intriguingly, these cells display differential treatment sensitivities to current treatments, attesting the cell of origin as an important determinant governing treatment outcome for AML. To further facilitate this line of investigation, here we describe a comprehensive disease modelling protocol using human primary haematopoietic cells, which covers all the key steps, from the isolation of immunophenotypically defined human primary haematopoietic stem and progenitor populations, to oncogene transfer via viral transduction, the in vitro liquid culture assay, and finally the xenotransplantation into immunocompromised mice.

0 Q&A 3986 Views Mar 5, 2021

Various stem cells have been found to be dependent on mitochondrial energetics. The role of mitochondria in regulating the self-renewal of normal stem cells and stem-like tumor initiating cells (TICs) is increasingly being appreciated. We proposed that TIC populations have a sub population of cells that are “primed” by mitochondria for self-renewal. Using ovarian cancer model, we have developed a protocol to identify and isolate these “primed” cells using Fluorescence-Assisted Cell Sorting (FACS). We combined live cell stains for a functional marker of TICs and for mitochondrial transmembrane potential to enrich TICs with higher mitochondrial potential that form in vitro spheroids 10-fold more than the other TICs with lower mitochondrial potential. This protocol can be directly used or modified to be used in various cell types. Thus, this protocol is anticipated to be invaluable for the basic understanding of mitochondrial and energetic heterogeneity within stem cell population, and may also prove valuable in translational studies in regenerative medicine and cancer biology.

0 Q&A 4605 Views May 20, 2020
T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive hematological malignancy that arises from transformation of T-cell primed hematopoietic progenitors. Although T-ALL is a heterogenous and molecularly complex disease, more than 65% of T-ALL patients carry activating mutations in the NOTCH1 gene. The majority of T-ALL–associated NOTCH1 mutations either disrupt the negative regulatory region, allowing signal activation in the absence of ligand binding, or result in truncation of the C-terminal PEST domain involved in the termination of NOTCH1 signaling by proteasomal degradation. To date, retroviral transduction models have relied heavily on the overexpression of aggressively truncated variants of NOTCH1 (such as ICN1 or ΔE-NOTCH1), which result in supraphysiological levels of signaling activity and are rarely found in human T-ALL. The current protocol describes the method for mouse bone marrow isolation, hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSC) enrichment, followed by retroviral transduction with an oncogenic mutant form of the NOTCH1 receptor (NOTCH1-L1601P-ΔP) that closely resembles the gain-of-function mutations most commonly found in patient samples. A hallmark of this forced expression of constitutively active NOTCH1 is a transient wave of extrathymic immature T-cell development, which precedes oncogenic transformation to T-ALL. Furthermore, this approach models leukemic transformation and progression in vivo by allowing for crosstalk between leukemia cells and the microenvironment, an aspect unaccounted for in cell-line based in vitro studies. Thus, the HSC transduction and transplantation model more faithfully recapitulates development of the human disease, providing a highly comprehensive and versatile tool for further in vivo and ex vivo functional studies.
0 Q&A 3491 Views Jan 20, 2020
Infantile hemangioma (IH) is a vascular tumor noted for its excessive blood vessel formation during infancy, glucose-transporter-1 (GLUT1)-positive staining of the blood vessels, and its slow spontaneous involution over several years in early childhood. For most children, IH poses no serious threat because it will eventually involute, but a subset can destroy facial structures and impair vision, breathing and feeding. To unravel the molecular mechanism(s) driving IH-specific vascular overgrowth, which to date remains elusive, investigators have studied IH histopathology, the cellular constituents and mRNA expression. Hemangioma endothelial cells (HemEC) were first isolated from surgically removed IH specimens in 1982 by Mulliken and colleagues (Mulliken et al., 1982). Hemangioma stem cells (HemSC) were isolated in 2008, hemangioma pericytes in 2013 and GLUT1-positive HemEC in 2015. Indeed, as we describe here, it is possible to isolate HemSC, GLUT1-positive HemEC, GLUT1-negative HemEC and HemPericytes from a single proliferating IH tissue specimen. This is accomplished by sequential selection using antibodies against specific cell surface markers: anti-CD133 to select HemSC, anti-GLUT1 and anti-CD31 to select HemECs and anti-PDGFRβ to select HemPericytes. IH-derived cells proliferate well in culture and can be used for in vitro and in vivo vasculogenesis and angiogenesis assays.
0 Q&A 9321 Views Sep 5, 2018
Glioma stem cells (GSC) grown as neurospheres exhibit similar characteristics to neural stem cells (NSC) grown as neurospheres, including the ability to self-renew and differentiate. GSCs are thought to play a role in cancer initiation and progression. Self-renewal potential of GSCs is thought to reflect many characteristics associated with malignancy, including tumor recurrence following cytotoxic therapy due to their proliferative dormancy and capacity to allow for the development of resistant tumor cell sub-clones due to mutations acquired during their differentiation. Here, we demonstrate that using extreme limiting dilution analysis (ELDA), subtle differences in the frequency of sphere-forming potential between PI3K-mutant oncogenic NSCs and non-oncogenic NSCs can be measured, in vitro. We further show how ELDA can be used on cells, before and after forced differentiation to amplify inherent differences in sphere-forming potential between mutant and control NSCs. Ultimately, ELDA exploits a difference in the ability of a single or a few seeded stem cells to self-renew, divide and form neurospheres. Importantly, the assay also allows a comparison between genetically distinct cells or between the same cells under different conditions, where the impact of target-specific drugs or other novel cancer stem cell therapies can be tested.
0 Q&A 9327 Views Jun 5, 2018
Traditional 2D cell cultures with cells grown as monolayers on solid surface still represent the standard method in cancer research for drug testing. Cells grown in 2D cultures, however, lack relevant cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions and ignore the true three-dimensional anatomy of solid tumors. Cells cultured in 2D can also undergo cytoskeletal rearrangements and acquire artificial polarity associated with aberrant gene expression (Edmondson et al., 2014). 3D culture systems that better mimic the in vivo situation have been developed recently. 3D in vitro cancer models (tumorspheres) for studying cancer stem cells have gained increased popularity in the field (Weiswald et al., 2015). Systems that use matrix-embedded or encapsulated spheroids, spheroids cultured in hanging drops, magnetic levitation systems or 3D printing methods are already being widely used in research and for novel drug screening. In this article, we describe a detailed protocol for testing the effect of shRNA-mediated gene silencing on tumorsphere formation and growth. This approach allows researchers to test the impact of gene knockdown on the growth of tumor initiating cells. As verified by our lab, the protocol can be also used for isolation of 3D cancer cell lines directly from tumor tissues.
0 Q&A 6408 Views Apr 5, 2018
Pituitary adenomas are among the more frequent intracranial tumors usually treated with both surgical and pharmacological–based on somatostatin and dopamine agonists–approaches. Although mostly benign tumors, the occurrence of invasive behaviors is often detected resulting in poorer prognosis. The use of primary cultures from human pituitary adenomas represented a significant advancement in the knowledge of the mechanisms of their development and in the definition of the determinants of their pharmacological sensitivity. Moreover, recent studies identified also in pituitary adenomas putative tumor stem cells representing, according to the current hypothesis, the real cellular targets to eradicate most malignancies. In this protocol, we describe the procedure to establish primary cultures from human pituitary adenomas, and how to select, in vitro expand, and phenotypically characterize putative pituitary adenoma stem cells.

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