Dissociated Tumor Cells – Fueling R&D and Drug Discovery by Simplifying Critical Biomarker Studies

Primary tumor tissue plays an integral role in therapeutic and diagnostic research but can be associated with budgetary and logistical challenges. Consequently, Precision for Medicine has developed a viable alternative in the form of dissociated tumor cells (DTCs). DTCs retain the characteristics of the original tumor, including tumor heterogeneity and cellular complexity, making them a quality surrogate to fresh tumor tissue for preclinical research, drug development, and personalized medicine.

Methods of Cell Dissociation
Dissociation is necessary for targeting and isolating cell types of interest, while focusing on collecting a high cell volume and minimizing adverse effects to cell viability or function. Of the 3 methods of dissociation (mechanical, enzymatic, chemical), the preferred method(s) depend on tumor type, cell characteristics, and research priorities.

  1. Mechanical dissociation
    Due to its physical nature, mechanical dissociation is best suited for loosely bound tissues such as bone marrow, lymph nodes, and spleen. While this method is the simplest and fastest, it may yield inconsistent results.
  2. Enzymatic dissociation
    Enzymatic techniques for dissociation release target cells using appropriate enzymes, which are dependent on the type of tissue. However, enzymatic dissociation may lead to inadvertent modification of target cell surface proteins and alteration of cell function.
  3. Chemical dissociation
    Using EDTA or EGTA to disrupt intracellular bonds, this method proves to be time-consuming but results in high cell recovery and viability after expansion. If the cell type of interest is rare, chemical dissociation may be preferred to minimize the risk of damage.

If primary tumor tissue is available, researchers can attempt to perform dissociation on their own, though determining the optimal dissociation method(s) can often be costly and time consuming. Alternatively, researchers can purchase DTCs from a biospecimen provider, such as Precision for Medicine’s Biospecimen Solutions team, with experience in—and established and validated protocols for—dissociating cells from different tissue and tumor types.

Acquired tumor tissue material is carefully processed in Precision for Medicine’s labs with high efficiency to reduce hypoxia time using “best-in-class” industry standard automated technology and validated protocols designed to manufacture fit-for-purpose high-quality DTCs. Furthermore, our labs are capable of handling custom DTC manufacturing requests to enhance cellular viability as well as perform detailed biomarker characterizations using techniques such as flow cytometry.  

Precision for Medicine has been trusted for over 14,000 research projects globally. With access to over 150 investigator sites across 55 countries and end-to-end chain of custody on all our samples, quality is our guarantee at Precision for Medicine.

Advantages of DTCs

In addition to being more cost effective than acquiring fresh tissue, DTCs offer the following benefits:

  • Research readiness. Each cell lot is pathogen-free and offers culture-grade sterility
  • Quality control (QC). Each lot undergoes strict QC to ensure the product meets specifications and comes with QC data, including validation of cell viability
  • Characterization. Complete clinical data, including medical history, are available for most patient lots
  • Flexibility. DTCs can be frozen, providing greater convenience for research and experimentation. Lots have high percentages of quality cells, with a mean refreeze cell viability ranging from 70% to 90% and a post-thaw cell viability of approximately 70%
  • Matched samples. Donor-matched plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) are available for most lots
  • Full cellular composition of the tumor microenvironment (TME). DTCs contain all cell populations present in the TME, including tumor, immune, and support cells. Myeloid cells and most lymphoid cellular populations, such as T cells and B cells, can be found in DTCs as well

Potential Applications of DTCs

DTCs can be used for many of the same downstream applications as fresh tumor tissue, including:

  • Cell isolation studies and studies of cell morphology and phenotype
  • Flow cytometric analysis
  • Cell culture applications focused on drug discovery, target identification, and target validation
  • Patient-derived xenografts (PDX models) as a surrogate to patient tumor tissue
  • Target discovery and drug response
  • 3D organoids and spheroids, for high-throughput drug screening and chemo-sensitivity testing
  • Sequencing studies for deep genetic characterization to identify novel biomarkers and oncogenes

How Precision for Medicine Can Help

Precision for Medicine strategically collaborates and partners with multiple clinical and surgical sites allowing for access to hard-to-acquire tumor tissue materials. These tumor tissues are deeply characterized and pathologically annotated, allowing access to multiple different datapoints throughout a patients’ diagnosis. Our Biospecimen Solutions team has a growing inventory of DTCs (see Table 1). We are also able to take custom orders that are tailored to suit your specific requirements. For custom DTC collection and manufacturing, appropriately consented and institutional review board (IRB)-approved tissue samples are sourced from within our worldwide investigator network. Diagnosis and tissue source are confirmed by an in-house, US-based board-certified pathologist before the samples undergo isolation and propagation. The isolated cells are well-characterized and highly annotated, and may have matched plasma, serum, and PBMCs. Custom characterization (eg, flow cytometric and cell biomarkers), including molecular profiling data, is also available.

Table 1: Most Readily Available DTC Inventory*
Breast cancer
Lung cancer
Renal cancer
Ovarian cancer
Liver cancer
Colorectal cancer
Others available upon request

*Our inventory is constantly expanding, so please contact us for specific tumor type availability.

Precision for Medicine also offers related services including custom tissue processing, flow cytometry, specialized cell culture to support hard-to-grow cells, and genomic sequencing including next-generation sequencing (NGS).

Key Takeaways

DTCs provide the closest representation of the composition and context of primary tumors, making them extremely valuable tools in R&D and drug discovery for driving therapeutic and diagnostic development in the life sciences industry. Their tolerance to cryopreservation and suitability for downstream analysis make them convenient, versatile, and cost-effective for advancing our understanding of tumor biology and moving precision medicine forward.

To learn more about DTCs or to request a quote, click here.

Precision for Medicine
Accelerating the Pace of Scientific Discovery and Approval

Please Note:

All of our products are intended for research or manufacturing use only unless otherwise arranged. Products are not to be used for human therapeutics, or for any other purposes, including: in vitro diagnostic purposes, in foods, drugs, medical devices or cosmetics for humans or animals, or commercial use.

About The Author


Anuj Kalsy

Scientific Director, Clinical Science, Precision for Medicine Pharmaceutical industry veteran with specialized scientific experience in academia and R&D. Holder of patents. Author of high-impact papers. Subject matter expert in oncology, angiogenesis, immune-oncology, targeted therapies, immunology, and vaccine design. Deep focus on translational medicine, including development of antibody drug conjugates. LinkedIn Profile