Simple Blood Test to Detect Cancer? Not So Fast
Experts question whether blood test could revolutionize cancer treatment.
Jan. 3, 2011— -- Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and health giant Johnson & Johnson are combining efforts to streamline a simple blood test that may be able to identify cancer cells in the blood stream of patients already diagnosed with a specific type of cancer.
But many experts question what place, if any, this test will have in the world of cancer prevention, early detection or even treatment.
The partnership is part of a nearly $30 million endeavor funded by Johnson & Johnson company Veridex and the advocacy group Stand Up to Cancer to develop and refine technology that will be able to accurately and quickly detect and analyze circulating tumor cells, the company said Monday.
Circulating tumor cells are a rare form of free-flowing cancer cells detached from the smallest of tumors and can be found at extremely low levels in the blood stream.
"For every one tumor cell in the blood there's over a billion normal blood cells in the circulation. So that's the big challenge for developing a test that can pull out one in a billion cells," said Dr. Daniel Haber, director of the cancer center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
CTC technology, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, is widely used in cancer centers to monitor a patient's response to treatment. But researchers now hope to expand its use to create a faster automated version that will analyze genetic components of a tumor and ultimately guide oncologists to personalize cancer treatments for patients.
"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," said Robert McCormack, head of technology innovation and strategy at Veridex.
Some cancer experts agreed the technology may be able to track some patients' cancer progression.
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