Liquid biopsy? Someday, perhaps

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.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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One Response to Liquid biopsy? Someday, perhaps

  1. Fascinating post! Wonder if application to other types of cancer as well! Thanks for providing this kind of background.

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