Microchip tracks tumor and treatment

July 3, 2008 2:19:00 PM PDT
FIRST PARAGRAPH Scientists have developed a microchip that can read tumor cells that circulate in the blood stream. A blood sample is taken from the patient, and then specialized microchip technology is used to capture and read the tumor cells. Dr. Daniel Haber of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, says "For the first time we can sample tumor cells directly from the blood of patients, and in real time we can count them, analyze them, and see how a patient's tumor cell is responding to a drug." The analysis can be made from just a teaspoon of the patient's blood. It captures the tumore cells, which have a sticky coating. Researchers then analyze the genetic characteristics of the cell to see where it may be most vulnerable. This technology allows for "real time" tracking of mutations in tumor cells, mutations that can trigger a shift in the most appropriate drugs to battle the tumor. When tumor cells start to develop mutations in tumor cells, and become "resistant" to a particular drugs, patients might not have to waste precious time waiting. Dr. Haber told ABC News, "This test could tell us in days instead of monthswhether a patient is responding to a treatment, and whether it's time to continue that treatment or switch to another drug, and which other drug might be appropriate for a given patient." Researchers tested the feasibility of the tumor cell test in 27 lung cancer patients and found it could reliably detect mutations. Cancer experts around the country are excited at the possibilities. Dr. David Carbone, of Vanderbilt Medical Center said, "This technology is potentially applicable to many of the common types of ancer such as lung, colon and breast." If all goes well, researchers predict the new test could be available to cancer patients within the next three years.