A new diagnostic system used to detect cancer cells in small blood samples could next be turned towards filtering a patient’s entire system to remove those dangerous cells – like a dialysis machine for cancer – says an Australian researcher who helped develop the system.
Dr Majid Warkiani, Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, UNSW
The technique was developed for cancer diagnosis, and is capable of detecting (and removing) a tiny handful of cancer-spreading cells from amongst the billions of healthy cells in a small blood sample.
The revolutionary system, which works to diagnose cancer at a tenth of the cost of competing technologies, is now in clinical trials in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia, and is in the process of being commercialised by Clearbridge BioMedics PteLtd in Singapore.
“It’s like a non-invasive ‘liquid biopsy’ that can flag the presence of any type of solid cancer – like lung, breast, bowel, and so on – without the need for surgery,” says Dr Majid Warkiani, a lecturer at the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of New South Wales, and a project leader at the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW.
Isolation of circulating tumour cells. Credit: Warkiani Lab and ClearbridgeBioMedics Pte Ltd.
The initial challenge in developing the early-warning diagnosis system was to find those few cancer cells amongst billions of healthy blood cells. That challenge was met by a system that ‘spins out’ and isolates circulating tumour cells (CTCs), which are shed into the bloodstream from a solid tumour and can establish tumours elsewhere in the body—the mechanism by which cancer spreads through the body.
The ‘liquid biopsy’ can thus be used both for early cancer diagnosis and for monitoring a patient’s response to treatment.
But the potential for the new system goes far beyond just diagnosis.
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