An extremely sensitive microchip developed by Massachusetts General Hospital BioMEMS research center and the MGH Cancer Center has the ability to isolate, count and analyze circulating tumor cells, or CTCs in the blood. CTCs are fragile, yet viable fragments from solid tumors that could be responsible for the spreading of cancer throughout the body. According to Mehmet Toner, the director, BioMEMS Resource Center, "these are really the cells that end up killing people."
The "CTC-chip" itself is a business-card sized silicon chip that features microscopic posts coated with cancer-detecting antibodies. As blood flows over the chip, the posts "trap" cancer cells, leaving healthy cells behind. Tests have proven the chip to be 99% effective in detecting CTC cells in samples—representing a vast improvement over current methods.
So what does this all mean? First and foremost, it means that cancer treatment can become more personalized. It means that determining whether or not a particular treatment is effective will be easier—saving patients precious time. It could also lead to better methods of cancer screening and a better understanding of the biology of cancer cells and how they spread throughout the body. It may not be the cure everyone is looking for, but the notion that the CTC chip could help doctors make faster and more effective judgments on when to switch treatments is certainly better than wasting a suffering patient's time with treatments that aren't working. [Press Release and Reuters via MedGadget]