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Researchers Hope To Develop A Blood Test For Cancer

A hospital technician processing bloodtests. (Neeta Lind/Flickr)

A hospital technician processing bloodtests. (Neeta Lind/Flickr)

Revolutionary research at Massachusetts General Hospital could soon make cancer screening as common as getting your cholesterol checked.

The hospital is teaming up with Johnson & Johnson, the giant pharmaceutical company, to develop a blood test for cancer. The partnership is aimed at making the test commercially available, the Boston Globe reported.

How will the new research change how we diagnose and treat cancer? Would you get your blood screened for cancer regularly if the test was as noninvasive as pin prick?

We’ll dive into the ground-breaking plans.

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  • Beryul

    I am wondering. Is Vitamin D3 the answer to a lot of cancers? I had my third thyroid cancer surgery out of town and in a couple weeks after I got home the nurse called and said something like this “I HAVE TO KNOW HOW MUCH VITAMIN D3 YOU ARE TAKING.” so intent and serious. was something meant with her being so forceful? And I wonder.

  • Gregory Pawelski

    It would be important to develop a method of in vivo labelling of tumor cells in the circulation and to monitor their trafficking and homing to other sites. If these cells are viable and therefore able to disseminate, I think the most robust test to this end is to document their ability to metastasize.

    What I know of CTC technology is that is has great potential – for drug selection – ten or twenty years down the road, and they should continue to try and make strides. However, in drug selection, there is a problem with growing or manipulating tumor cells in any way. When looking for cell-death-related events, which mirror the effect of drugs on living tumors, cells are generally not grown or amplified in any way. The object is occurrence of programmed cell death in cells that come into contact with therapeutic agents.

    How do you aggregate a sufficient number of cancer cells to make accurate determinations? Detectable tumor cells in the peripheral blood are present only in extremely small numbers. This precludes allowing a sufficient number of cells to incubate for a few days in the presence of chemotherapeutic agents. Analysis of a relatively small number of isolated cancer cells cannot yield the same quality information as subjecting living cells to chemotherapeutic agents, begging the question of whether or not it can accurately predict which drugs will work and which will not.

    CTCs are free-floating cancer cells that can remain in isolation from a tumor for over twenty years. What is the relationship of such long-lasting cells to the tumor cells that need to be attacked through tested substances?

    Then there is the question of heterogeneity. The original Immunicon research team really became known for their ability to track and isolate circulating tumor, endothelial, immune and other disease associated circulating cell populations and then using every tool available to further characterize them. The problem they know is the heterogeneity of all these cell populations is greater than any one thought thus defining and characterizing them is more difficult as is finding them – also finding vital ones – as many if not most are dead or dying – this is one of the reasons why the metastatic process is so inefficient.

    Tumors in the body are genetically variable. What is the relationship between CTCs and primary tumors or their already established metastases? It has already been established that the gene expression profile of a metastatic lesion can be different compared to that of the primary. The status of the marker Her2/neu in CTCs sometimes differs from that of the original primary tumor, which would point to different prescriptions for Herceptin.

    The number of cells discovered in the CTC technique has turned out to be a good prognosticator of how well empiric treatments are working, but less certain in the ability to use it for drug selection. The “problem” is in isolating and analyzing single cancer cells. The supposition is that common cancers can be detected and cured through analysis at a genetic level of a small number of cells or even a single wayward cell.

    Genetic or IHC testing examines dead tissue that is preserved in paraffin or formalin. How is that going to be predictive to the behavior of living cells in spontaneously formed colonies or microspheres? Can it describe the complex behavior of living cancer cells in response to the injury they receive from different forms of chemotherapy? There is a big difference between living and dead tissue.

    Some molecular tests do utilize living cells, but generally of individual cancer cells in suspension, sometimes derived from tumors and sometimes derived from CTCs. Don’t forget, this was tried with the human clonogenic assay, which had been discredited long ago.

    Again, this has been a very promising field of research, however, it’s turning out to be much more complex as we learn more. More research is needed and no one really has figured out how it all fits. Although they’re getting closer and closer.

  • Carol Wong

    I have Sarcoidosis. I think the nurse should have explained why she was asking. I used to take extra calicuim on the advice of my doctors. I had to cut that out and make sure not get too much Vitamin D because both of them can make Sarcoidosis worse!

  • Anonymous

    Carol,
    Have you considered looking into antibiotic protocol for treatment of sarcoidosis?  There is a lot of information on the website http://www.roadback.org.  I am a survivor of systemic scleroderma and the only treatment I used is antibiotics, which are not a mainstream medical treatment protocol.  I have been symptom free 2.5 years.

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