Considerable evidence suggests that breast cancer development and metastasis are driven by cancer stem-like cells (CSCs). Due to their unique role in tumor initiation, the interaction between CSCs and stromal cells is especially critical. In this work, we developed a platform to reliably isolate single cells in suspension and grow single-cell-derived spheres for functional enrichment of CSCs. The platform also allows adherent culture of stromal cells for cancer-stromal interaction. As a proof of concept, we grew SUM149 breast cancer cells and successfully formed single-cell-derived spheres. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) as stromal cells were found to significantly enhance the formation and growth of cancer spheres, indicating elevated tumor-initiation potential. After on-chip culture for 14 days, we retrieved single-cell derived spheres with and without CAF co-culture for single-cell transcriptome sequencing. Whole transcriptome analysis highlights that CAF co-culture can boost cancer stemness especially ALDHhigh CSCs and alter epithelial/mesenchymal status. Single-cell resolution allows identification of individual CSCs and investigation of cancer cellular heterogeneity. Incorporating whole transcriptome sequencing data with public patient database, we discovered novel genes associated with cancer-CAF interaction and critical to patient survival. The preliminary works demonstrated a reliable platform for enrichment of CSCs and studies of cancer-stromal interaction.
Keywords: RNA-Seq; cancer-associated fibroblast; cell co-culture; single cell; tumor sphere.
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