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Microchip Spots Stray Tumor Cells in the Bloodstream

Device might aid in the detection and monitoring of cancer, developers say

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A U.S. team has developed a microchip device that can detect rare tumor cells lingering in the bloodstream.

The device has a silicon chip with about 80,000 microscopic posts. Each post is coated with an antibody to a particular protein expressed by most solid tumors. The device is able to capture, count and analyze circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from a blood sample, the researchers say.

CTCs are cells from solid tumors that circulate in the bloodstream at a level of one in a billion cells. Because they're rare and fragile, it's been impossible to use CTCs to help doctors make clinical decisions about cancer patients.

This new CTC-chip may prove effective in helping monitor and guide cancer treatment, said the team of researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. A report on the new chip is published in the Dec. 20 issue of the journal Nature.

"This use of nanofluidics to find such rare cells is revolutionary, the first application of this technology to a broad, clinically important problem," Dr. Daniel Haber, director of the MGH Cancer Center and report co-author, said in a prepared statement.

"While much work remains to be done, this approach raises the possibility of rapidly and noninvasively monitoring tumor response to treatment, allowing changes if the treatment is not effective, and the potential of early-detection screening in people at increased risk for cancer," Haber said.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Dec. 19, 2007

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