Blood Test Could Replace Biopsies, Revolutionize Cancer Treatment

January 3, 2011

(ChattahBox Health News)—A new blood test that can detect a stray cancer cell from a small amount of blood using a specially designed microchip coated with antibody glue, is about to revolutionize the way cancer is detected and treated. Not only would the test someday replace invasive needle biopsies, but it can track the progression and mutation of cancerous tumors during treatment in real time.

The test was invented by a group of Boston-based researchers, including Dr. Daniel Haber, chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s cancer center at Harvard Medical School. The new blood test with its specialized microchip that can capture circulating tumor cells, or CTCs will be manufactured by health care giant Johnson & Johnson, soon making it widely available.

Cancer patients are currently treated based on the results of a needle biopsy used to diagnose their cancer early on in the treatment process. But Dr. Haber points out that a patient’s tumor changes over time and mutates, which can limit the effectiveness of treatments. The new blood test described as a “liquid biopsy” can monitor the changes in the cancer and vary the treatment to give patients a better chance of survival.

After the first successful trial of the blood test in 2008, Haber hailed the importance of real time results in treating cancer.

“Even in the three to four months that we followed patients, the genetic make-up of the tumors changed. Resistant mutations appear and other mutations appear, obviously because we’re doing things [with drug therapy] to the cancer,” Haber said. “But the way we practice oncology we don’t typically test for that. We do one biopsy which takes a tiny, tiny amount and assume that for the rest of the course, the tumor is the same.”

“It’s important to know in real time what you’re treating,” he continued. “We need to be able to follow the patient without needing to re-biopsy the tumor every time.”

Cancer patients will soon have a better chance of survival, once treatments can be adjusted in real time to respond to changes in the cancerous tumors.


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