Those sneaky cancer cells lurking in blood work, which for years have gone undetected, are now directly in the cross-hairs of a new blood test invented by Boston-based scientists. The test is said to be able to detect one cancer cell in billions of cells from a typical blood test. Stray cancer cells in the blood usually mean that a tumor has spread or is likely to do so. A test that can capture such cells has the potential to transform care for many types of cancer, especially breast, prostate, colon and lung. Detection of these stray cells would allow physicians to know, in patients in whom cancer has been diagnosed, which treatments are working, which cancer drug is most effective and whether cancer has spread beyond its known location(s). In the future, it may allow for more accurate screening for cancer in its initial stages.
Four major U.S. hospitals, Massachusetts General, M.D. Anderson, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Sloan-Kettering will utilize a $15 million grant from the Stand Up to Cancer telethon to fund the use of this new blood test – which may be the breakthrough in cancer treatment that we’ve all been waiting for in the fight against cancer. These four major cancer treatment hospitals will utilize the now experimental test for 2011. If the test proves to be effective, it is anticipated that it will be marketed nationwide – perhaps as early as 2012.
“This is like a liquid biopsy” that avoids painful tissue sampling and may give a better way to monitor patients than periodic imaging scans, said Dr. Daniel Haber, chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s cancer center and one of the test’s inventors. “If you could find out quickly, ‘this drug is working, stay on it,’ or ‘this drug is not working, try something else,’ that would be huge,” Haber said.
Johnson & Johnson announced earlier this week that it would be joining the effort and will be instrumental in the effort to mass produce of the test for use in physician’s offices, clinics and hospitals. The agreement announced Monday calls for the company to improve the microchip, utilize less expensive components and to come up with alternative designs for use in clinical settings and physicians’ offices.
While this test will not be available in the immediate future for most cancer patients, it does offer a much less invasive test which can be done on a very frequent basis to more closely track cancer cells and to assist physicians in evaluating the effectiveness of a patient’s cancer treatment plan. “This new technology has the potential to facilitate an easy-to-administer, non-invasive blood test that would allow us to count tumor cells, and to characterize the biology of the cells,” said Robert McCormack, Head of Technology Innovation and Strategy, Veridex. “Harnessing the information contained in these cells in an in vitro clinical setting could enable tools to help select treatment and monitor how patients are responding.”
With seemingly almost every family directly affected by cancer in the United States, let’s all hope this is the cancer breakthrough we’ve been waiting for, or, in the very least, a big step in that direction.