A novel miniature diagnostic platform using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology is capable of detecting minuscule cell particles known as microvesicles in a drop of blood. Microvesicles shed by cancer cells are even more numerous than those released by normal cells, so detecting them could prove a simple means for diagnosing cancer. In a study published in Nature Medicine, investigators at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Systems Biology (CSB) demonstrate that microvesicles shed by brain cancer cells can be reliably detected in human blood through a combination of nanotechnology and their new NMR-based device.
"About 30 or 40 years ago, people noticed something in the bloodstream that they initially thought was some kind of debris or 'cell dust',"explains Hakho Lee, PhD, of the CSB, and co-senior author of the study with Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, director of the CSB. "But it has recently become apparent that these vesicles shed by cells actually harbor the same biomarkers as their parent cells."
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have been regarded as a potential key to improved cancer diagnosis, but Lee explains, "The problem with CTCs is that they are extremely rare, so finding them in the blood is like trying to find a needle in a haystack." Microvesicles on the other hand are abundant in the circulation and, unlike CTCs, are small enough to cross the blood/brain barrier, which means that they could be used to detect and monitor brain cancers, he adds.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and most aggressive brain cancer in humans. By the time it is diagnosed, patients typically have less than 15 months to live. One of the biggest challenges with this condition is accurate disease monitoring to establish whether patients are responding to treatment. Currently, the only way to diagnose and monitor GBM is with biopsies and imaging tests, making long-term treatment monitoring difficult, in
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Massachusetts General Hospital