In 2007, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital developed a “microfluidic chip” called CellSearch that made it possible to count stray cancer cells that had detached from the main tumor, becoming “circulating tumor cells.” (CTCs, sounds like cancer cells going clubbing.)
Yesterday, Mass General announced that it was going to build on this work with Veridex LLC, a division of Johnson & Johnson. It plans to develop a chip that not only counts CTCs, but actually traps and analyzes them. The new microchip will be coated with tens of thousands of teeny posts covered in antibodies designed to stick to tumor cells. Think of it as a very tiny roach motel for cancer cells.
Someday, this work may make it possible to do a “liquid biopsy,” isolating cancer cells on the move, figuring out where they’re going, how they may be evolving, and what treatments might work best to stop them.
Obviously, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow. But giving up two teaspoons of blood for cancer diagnostic purposes sure sounds a lot better than a core biopsy, better than a fine needle biopsy, better than exploratory surgery. It sounds great, in fact.