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Scientists Aim for Test That Spots Single Cancer Cell in Blood Sample
Date:1/4/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A collaborative effort involving U.S. scientists and private companies is looking into a test that could find even one stray cancer cell among the millions of cells in a given blood sample.

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, and others like it under development, relies on circulating tumor cells (CTCs) -- cancer cells that have detached from the main tumor and are traveling to other parts of the body.

Other versions of tests aimed at spotting CTCs are already in the works. For example, a few years ago, researchers at Veridex LLC, a Johnson & Johnson company, developed a technology called CellSearch, which counts the number of stray cancer cells in blood. However, that test didn't allow scientists to trap whole cells and analyze them.

And at Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers have developed a type of microchip with a surface covered with antibodies that are designed to stick to tumor cells. As blood passes over the chip, tumor cells separate from the pack and adhere to the surface.

Then, on Monday, Mass General announced an agreement with Veridex to develop and study a wholly new type of CTC blood test that involves a different, and as yet undisclosed, technology. Media reports issued Monday had erroneously stated that the test involved microchip technology.

Scientists are wagering that these types 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," said one expert, Dr. Mass
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