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Scientists Aim for Test That Could Spot Single Cancer Cell in Blood
Date:1/3/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 3 (HealthDay News) -- A collaboration of U.S. scientists and private companies are looking into a test that could find even one stray cancer cell among the billions of cells that circulate in the human bloodstream.

The hope is that one day such a test, given soon after a treatment is started, could indicate whether the therapy is working or not. It might even indicate beforehand which treatment would be most effective.

The test relies on circulating tumor cells (CTCs) -- cancer cells that have detached from the main tumor and are traveling to other parts of the body.

In 2007, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed a "microfluidic chip," called CellSearch, which could count the number of stray cancer cells, but that test didn't allow scientists to trap whole cells and analyze them.

But on Monday, Mass General announced an agreement with Veridex LLC, part of Johnson & Johnson, to study a newer version of the test. According to the Associated Press, the updated test requires only a couple of teaspoons of blood.

The microchip is dotted with tens of thousands of tiny posts covered with antibodies designed to stick to tumor cells. As blood passes over the chip, tumor cells separate from the pack and adhere to the posts.

Scientists are wagering that this type of test, if successful, might also detect cancer early in its course, predict the odds for a recurrence, and assess a patient's general prognosis.

"There has been speculation that these [stray] cells are the ones that are responsible for the spreading of the disease," noted one expert, Dr. Massimo Cristofanilli, professor and chairman of medical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "Simple enumeration tells us that this patient has a worse prognosis . . . Now the question is, what other information we can gather, if we are able to capture
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