The chances of surviving cancer diminish fast once cells break away from the primary tumor and course through the bloodstream to establish secondary tumors in other parts of the body. Now, researchers have developed a device that can sort the different types of circulating tumor cells and better predict cancer spread.
Devices that capture circulating tumor cells from the blood of cancer patients are currently in use, but they cannot differentiate among the different types of tumor cells, they simply count them all. They do give an indication of tumor aggressiveness – the more circulating tumor cells there are, the higher the chance that the cancer is spreading. But they cannot say, for example, whether a sample contains a high or low proportion of more aggressive tumor cells.
In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Shana Kelley, a professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto in Canada, and colleagues write about a new device they have developed that sorts circulating tumor cells.
They describe how they used nanoparticles to tag the circulating tumor cells, then used the device to sort them into discrete subgroups based on their “phenotype” or observable molecular characteristics to provide a snapshot of the tumor cells present in the blood of cancer patients.
Prof. Kelley says, “In the lab, we were able to demonstrate that the tool was not only highly effective at differentiating these cells, but also proved to be more sensitive than the current leading methods of cellular sorting.”
In their study, Prof. Kelley and her team, together with collaborators at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, also in Toronto, and the London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ontario, tested the new device on samples collected from 20 patients with localized prostate cancer.
They found significant levels of circulating tumor cells in all the patients. But not all the samples had the same mix – the subpopulation profiles were quite varied – despite the fact the patients had all received very similar clinical diagnoses.
Although their study only involved a small number of patients, the group now plans to test the device with samples from patients with breast, colon, ovarian, lung and pancreatic cancers.
Prof. Kelley says they believe in the end they will show that the sensitive technology in the device has the potential to provide useful information about circulating tumor cells – leading to better diagnoses and improved outcomes for patients.
“As a result, we are excited to pursue new research opportunities in an effort to more accurately and less invasively diagnose and improve the health outcomes for cancer patients,” she adds.
Medical News Today recently learned that scientists are also getting closer to developing a single blood test to screen for several cancers, including rare types.