New technology is enabling cancer scientists to look at individual cells, potentially leading to personalised treatments.
The method developed at University College London (UCL) allows researchers to analyse the behaviour of millions of different cells living inside lab-grown tumours.
The research, published in 'Nature Methods', gives new insight into how mutated cancer cells "mimic the growth signals" normally expressed by healthy cells, allowing them to grow unchecked.
Dr Chris Tape of UCL's Cancer Institute, said: "Our new technology allows us to simultaneously measure the behaviour of cancer cells, healthy cells and immune cells from mini-tumours."
Researchers have developed a new technique to prepare cells for analysis on a mass spectrometer. They say this technological breakthrough means they can study how cancer cells interact with any cell type using mini-tumour models.
Dr Tape said: "By understanding how mini-tumours function at the single-cell level, this new technology will enable researchers to identify new ways to treat an individual's cancer."
In future they expect a patient will have mini-tumours grown as living biopsies alongside their clinical treatment.
Drugs will be tested on the mini-tumours to inform how the patient's individual tumour should be treated.