A model for the detection of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma circulating tumor cells


  • Matthew S. Alexander University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
  • Brianne R. O'Leary University of Iowa
  • Devon Moose University of Iowa
  • Juan Du University of Iowa
  • Michael D. Henry University of Iowa
  • Joseph J. Cullen University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics




pancreatic adenocarcinoma, circulating tumor cells, metastasis, bioluminescent imaging, orthotopic implantation


Metastatic disease is the leading cause of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) associated death. PDAC cells invade and enter the bloodstream early, before frank malignancy can be detected. Our objective was to develop an in vivo assay enabling the identification and quantification of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from primary orthotopic PDAC tumors. Human PDAC cells expressing luciferase and green fluorescent protein were orthotopically injected into the pancreas of mice utilizing ultrasound guidance. Bioluminescent imaging was conducted to identify and track tumor growth. CTCs were then isolated and analyzed by flow cytometry to detect GFP-expressing cancer cells. Tumor growth as measured by bioluminescent imaging increased over time. The concentration of CTCs correlated with the strength of bioluminescent imaging signal. In addition, livers bearing macroscopic disease were harvested for further imaging under fluorescence stereomicroscopy and confocal microscopy, which confirmed the presence of metastases. This study represents an orthotopic animal model that reliably detects the presence of CTCs from PDAC. There is a positive correlation between the concentrations of CTCs with overall tumor burden.



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How to Cite

Alexander MS, O’Leary BR, Moose D, Du J, Henry MD, Cullen JJ. A model for the detection of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma circulating tumor cells. J Biol Methods [Internet]. 2018Sep.5 [cited 2022May27];5(3):e97. Available from: https://jbmethods.org/jbm/article/view/250