In situ characterization of the 3D microanatomy of the pancreas and pancreatic cancer at single cell resolution


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Accumulating evidence indicates the tumor microenvironment is highly associated with tumorigenesis through regulation of cellular physiology, signaling systems, and gene expression profiles of cancer cells. Yet the mechanisms by which the microenvironment evolves from normal pancreas architecture to precursor lesions and invasive cancer is poorly understood. Obtaining high-content and high-resolution information from a complex tumor microenvironment in large volumetric landscapes represents a key challenge in the field of cancer biology. To address this challenge, we established a novel method to reconstruct three-dimensional (3D) centimeter-scale tissues containing billions of cells from serially sectioned histological samples, utilizing deep learning approaches to recognize eight distinct tissue subtypes from hematoxylin and eosin stained sections at micrometer and single-cell resolution. Using samples from a range of normal, precancerous, and invasive pancreatic cancer tissue, we map in 3D modes of cancer invasion in the tumor microenvironment, and emphasize the need for further 3D quantification of biological systems.