Talk about finding a needle in a haystack – how about finding one cancer cell circulating among one billion healthy ones?
That the promise of a new technology, a microchip scanner, no bigger than a business card, that searches a patient’s blood looking for a stray tumor cell.
Using the latest in nanotechnology, a CTC-chip, or circulating tumor cells, has been invented by Massachusetts General Hospital and is being heralded as a huge improvement over standard biopsies and CAT scans to track the progress of a cancer.
The device has 78,000 posts inside to trap the cancer cells with a glue-like substance. In the study, researchers identified a non-small-cell lung cancer, which is the deadliest form of the disease, after taking blood from 27 lung cancer patients.
Once a cancer cell is captured, its genetic fingerprint is taken. Then the most effective drug for that particular type of cancer can be custom-fitted for treatment before the cancer spreads.
The researchers from Massachusetts General and Harvard found among the 27 patients, 23 that had the EGFR gene mutation. The CTC chip found 99 percent of circulating cancer cells and 92 percent of EGFR gene mutations.
“Someday, we might pick our cancer drugs like we pick our antibiotics,” Dr. Roy Herbst, a lung cancer specialist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston tells the Boston Globe.
Repeated scans can show whether a drug is working. The CTC-chip has been used to identify cancer cells in the blood stream of lung, prostate, pancreas, breast and colon cancers.
A report in the New England Journal of Medicine finds the technology most useful in migrating cancer cells in the lung where a standard biopsy can cause the collapse of the lung or infection.
Often standard scans may take months to show whether a tumor is growing, time a patient frequently cannot afford.
The device is not yet ready for widespread use and will be tested by larger groups of patients before it is routinely used.
Nanotechnology is not entirely without controversy.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, under the CDC, wants to determine if inhaling carbon nanoparticles has the same effect on humans as asbestos. It is concerned the technology may pose risks for employees working in the nanoparticle industry. #