LA JOLLA, CA Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Health, and collaborating cancer physicians have successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of an advanced blood test for detecting and analyzing circulating tumor cells (CTCs)breakaway cells from patients' solid tumorsfrom cancer patients. The findings, reported in five new papers, show that the highly sensitive blood analysis provides information that may soon be comparable to that from some types of surgical biopsies.
"It's a next-generation technology," said Scripps Research Associate Professor Peter Kuhn, PhD, senior investigator of the new studies and primary inventor of the high-definition blood test. "It significantly boosts our ability to monitor, predict, and understand cancer progression, including metastasis, which is the major cause of death for cancer patients."
The studies were published February 3, 2012, in the journal Physical Biology.
The new test, called HD-CTC, labels cells in a patient's blood sample in a way that distinguishes possible CTCs from ordinary red and white blood cells. It then uses a digital microscope and an image-processing algorithm to isolate the suspect cells with sizes and shapes ("morphologies") unlike those of healthy cells. Just as in a surgical biopsy, a pathologist can examine the images of the suspected CTCs to eliminate false positives and note their morphologies.
Kuhn emphasizes that this basic setup can be easily modified with different cell-labeling and image-processing techniques.
Five New Studies, Five Steps Forward
To test the new technology, members of the Kuhn lab at Scripps Research teamed up with pathologists and oncologists at Scripps Health in La Jolla, California; UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego; the Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana; the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of California, San Francisco; th
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Scripps Research Institute