Improved capture of cancer cells could aid in disease tracking

CHAPEL HILL — Researchers at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and University of Wisconsin-Madison have demonstrated improved methods of capturing free-floating cancer cells that are cast-off from tumors, and circulating in the blood.

If these cast-off cells can be accurately counted, they could provide an additional way to track treatment or screen for disease.

“Based on previous research, we know that circulating tumor cells indeed can be used as a biomarker, and have prognostic significance, but the problem has been the sensitivity of the tests studied,” said UNC Lineberger’s Andrew Wang, MD, associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology. “We set out to improve on both the sensitivity and the specificity of the test.”

Using their test design, Wang and his collaborators counted circulating cancer cells in the blood of 24 patients undergoing treatment for head-and-neck, prostate, rectal or cervical cancer.

In the journal Clinical Cancer Research, researchers reported that by forcing cancer cells to slow down and developing stronger molecular traps for them, they could identify large numbers of the cells in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

They also found that the numbers of circulating tumor cells dropped while


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