Document Type

Journal Article


Bio Med


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Queensland Centre for Head and Neck funded by Atlantic Philanthropies

Queensland Government


Kulasinghe, A., Perry, C., Kenny, L., Warkiani, M. E., Nelson, C., & Punyadeera, C. (2017). PD-L1 expressing circulating tumour cells in head and neck cancers. BMC cancer, 17(1), Article 333.



Blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 immune checkpoint pathway is emerging as a promising immunotherapeutic approach for the management and treatment of head and neck cancer patients who do not respond to 1st/2nd line therapy. However, as checkpoint inhibitors are cost intensive, identifying patients who would most likely benefit from anti PD-L1 therapy is required. Developing a non-invasive technique would be of major benefit to the patient and to the health care system.

Case presentation

We report the case of a 56 year old man affected by a supraglottic squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). A CT scan showed a 20 mm right jugulodigastric node and suspicious lung lesions. The lung lesion was biopsied and confirmed to be consistent with SCC. The patient was offered palliative chemotherapy. At the time of presentation, a blood sample was taken for circulating tumour cell (CTC) analysis. The dissemination of cancer was confirmed by the detection of CTCs in the peripheral blood of the patient, measured by the CellSearch System (Janssen Diagnostics). Using marker-independent, low-shear spiral microfluidic technology combined with immunocytochemistry, CTC clusters were found in this patient at the same time point, expressing PD-L1.


This report highlights the potential use of CTCs to identify patients which might respond to anti PD-L1 therapy.



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