Some Day a Simple Blood Draw Could Help Personalize Cancer Treatment

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t cells attack cancer cellA paper by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers that was recently published in Science, revealed a method that with a simple blood draw, could allow personalized treatment of a patient’s cancer.  In this method a blood sample is taken and the cancer cells are isolated, placed in a laboratory dish, and experimented with to find which drugs work best to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in the dishes and in mice. Over time, tumors can develop resistance to medications. Since it is noninvasive, this process could be performed repeatedly, allowing doctors to monitor changes in the cancer cells and adjust medications accordingly.

The researchers worked with Johnson & Johnson to develop the “CTC-iChip” that was used to filter out and isolate the cancer cells. The new version of the chip overcomes the limitations of a previous version. It is the size of a microscope slide and has tiny channels carved into it. Cells are sorted by size and the small red blood cells are eliminated. Then a magnetic coating is added that homes in on white blood cells and uses magnets to select out the tumor cells.

This technique offers hope, but obstacles need to be overcome before it can be put into regular use. The experiment was performed on breast cancer patients, but it is not known if it will be difficult to grow cells for other cancer types. Also, the process is inefficient. In the experiment, only six out of 36 samples could be successfully grown in a dish, and when they could be grown it took months. In practice, the process will probably also be expensive. But, Mass General researchers are already looking to find solutions. Says Shyamala Maheswaran, PhD, of the MGH Cancer Center, co-senior author of the Science paper, “We need to improve culture techniques before this is ready for clinical use, and we are working on doing that right now.”

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