Metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a highly fatal and immunogenic malignancy. Although the immune system is known to recognize these tumor cells, one mechanism by which NSCLC can evade the immune system is via overexpression of programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1). Recent clinical trials of PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors have returned promising clinical responses. Important for personalizing therapy, patients with higher intensity staining for PD-L1 on tumor biopsies responded better. Thus, there has been interest in using PD-L1 tumor expression as a criterion for patient selection. Currently available methods of screening involve invasive tumor biopsy, followed by histological grading of PD-L1 levels. Biopsies have a high risk of complications, and only allow sampling from limited tumor sections, which may not reflect overall tumor heterogeneity. Circulating tumor cell (CTC) PD-L1 levels could aid in screening patients, and could supplement tissue PD-L1 biopsy results by testing PD-L1 expression from disseminated tumor sites. Towards establishing CTCs as a screening tool, we developed a protocol to isolate CTCs at high purity and immunostain for PD-L1. Monitoring of PD-L1 expression on CTCs could be an additional biomarker for precision medicine that may help in determining response to immunotherapies.
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