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New Blood Test Advances Individualized Cancer Therapy and Cuts Down on Need for Painful Biopsies

Bethesda, MD (PRWEB) July 24, 2014

The first-ever successful isolation and culture of rare tumor cells circulating in a patient’s blood has been achieved by NFCR-supported scientist Daniel Haber, M.D., Ph.D., and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital. This is an important milestone on the road to individualized cancer therapy, a new approach to selecting the best treatment for each patient.

“Tumors evolve in response to treatment,” said Dr. Haber. “They often acquire new genetic features that make them resistant to drugs. If we can monitor those changes in real time, we stand a better chance of matching the right treatments with the right patients against those new changes in their tumors.” With the success of the CTC-iChip, it is now possible to do just that.

The CTC-iChip is a business card-sized device developed by MGH bioengineer Dr. Mehmet Toner, Dr. Haber and their collaborators that can capture extraordinarily rare “circulating tumor cells” (CTCs) from a patient’s blood sample – one tumor cell per billion blood cells. Recent improvements in the chip make it easier to remove CTCs from the filter device and grow them in cell culture dishes in the labs.

As part of the experiment, the researchers took multiple blood samples from women with breast cancer over the course of their treatment, and were able to monitor the development of new mutations in their CTCs. Because this approach starts with a simple blood test, changes in the tumor cells can be assessed over time without the need for repeated, invasive, and painful biopsies.

Using the CTC-derived tumor models grown in the lab, Dr. Haber’s team could also test various combinations of drugs to see which were effective. This technique could provide a new way to help physicians develop personalized cancer treatment plans for individual patients. Dr. Haber and his team are now focused on optimizing CTC culture conditions, improving efficiency, bringing down costs, and meeting the remaining challenges to bring individualized therapy into the clinic.

“At NFCR we take the long view of cancer research, and our support of Dr. Haber’s research over the past decade is paying off,” said Franklin Salisbury, Jr., President of NFCR. “We could not be more proud of what Dr. Haber and his colleagues at MGH have accomplished, and we have every confidence that they will continue to improve this technique, making individualized therapy a reality for cancer patients everywhere.”

Dr. Haber has received NFCR support since 2003. Dr. Haber’s findings were published in the July 11 issue of the journal Science.

About the National Foundation for Cancer Research

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is a leading cancer research charity dedicated to funding cancer research and public education relating to cancer prevention, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for cancer. NFCR promotes and facilitates collaboration among scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery from bench to bedside. NFCR is committed to Research for a Cure - cures for all types of cancer. For more information, visit or call (800) 321-CURE (2873).

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