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Scientists document the telltale traits of key players called myeloid cells in 15 types of cancer.

The immune cells known as myeloid cells can be friend or foe: some promote tumour development, whereas others slow it. Analysis of myeloid cells in a wide range of cancers has now revealed dozens of molecular badges that help to distinguish cancer-fighting myeloid cells from their cancer-friendly cousins.

To capture the molecular ‘fingerprints’ of macrophages, mast cells and other types of myeloid cell in various cancers, Zemin Zhang at the Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics and his colleagues collected myeloid cells from 210 people who between them had 15 types of cancer, including lung cancer, lymphoma and myeloma. They then analysed the genomic data from 138,161 cells.

The authors used the data to tabulate the subtypes of myeloid cell distinctive to each tumour type and to compare the specific features of those cells. This allowed the team to create a comprehensive catalogue of the molecular markers, such as particular gene-expression profiles, in myeloid cells in a wide range of cancers.

This catalogue could help researchers to understand the part that myeloid cells play in tumours, and to develop cancer therapies targeting myeloid cells.

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