A novel method for concentrating circulating tumor cells (CTCs) for liquid biopsy of cancer has been developed by a team at UCLA. Published this week in Oncotarget, the new approach could present a more effective and low-cost option for noninvasive biopsy compared with current techniques.
Investigator Dino Di Carlo (Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA) and team developed a technology that generates millimeter-scale whirlpools to draw in and concentrate CTCs based on their size. Subsequent analysis of these CTCs can aid in tailoring treatments to each patient and can also help predict the chances of disease relapse.
“CTCs are extremely rare, so isolating them is a problem similar to finding a needle in a haystack,” commented Di Carlo. “Our filterless system avoids issues of previous technologies that clog and break cells apart, and we found this approach was more effective than technologies currently available at isolating cells from breast and lung cancer patients.”
Over the course of the study, the UCLA team isolated and analyzed CTCs from 50 cancer patients using their technique. In a number of these patients, they compared the number of CTCs isolated with the numbers retrieved using the current US FDA-approved gold standard instrument. This analysis demonstrated that the new approach uncovered significantly higher numbers of cells per patient, with in excess of 80 % of patients having CTC levels above age-matched healthy individuals, compared with only 20 % with the currently approved instrument.
Di Carlo hopes the new system will enable clinicians to better understand how to administer and monitor treatments and that in the long term such an approach could potentially be used to detect cancer much earlier with a simple blood test.