Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Health, and collaborating cancer physicians have demonstrated the effectiveness of an advanced blood test for detecting and analyzing circulating tumor cells (CTCs)—breakaway cells from patients’ solid tumors—from 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.[ Also Read: Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign for Latinas ]
“It’s a next-generation technology,” said Scripps Research Associate Professor Peter Kuhn, Ph.D., 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 Feb. 3, 2012, in the journal Physical Biology.[ Also Read: Scientists’ New Approach to Know Cancer Origin ]
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.[ Also Read: Why Fresh Lemons are Good for Your Health ]
Kuhn emphasizes that this basic setup can be easily modified with different cell-labeling and image-processing techniques.
Kuhn’s laboratory is supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the US National Institutes of Health as the NCI Scripps Physics Oncology Center, which was initially supported through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world’s leading independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations.[ Also Read: How to Deal with Cancer in the Elderly ]
In the picture above: Scripps Research Institute biophysicist Peter Kuhn and colleagues have captured images of tumor cells circulating in the blood stream, such as this cluster of lung tumor cells (in red-blue) shown interacting with normal blood cells (green-blue) recovered from a blood sample of a patient with lung cancer. (Image courtesy of the Kuhn lab, The Scripps Research Institute.)