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First Ever Technique Identifies Single Cancer Cells in Blood for Targeted Treatments

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 04 Apr 2024
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Image: A new technique has demonstrated the ability to identify single cancer cells in blood for the first time (Photo courtesy of crystal light/Shutterstock)
Image: A new technique has demonstrated the ability to identify single cancer cells in blood for the first time (Photo courtesy of crystal light/Shutterstock)

The global medical community is increasingly recognizing liquid biopsy as a transformative approach to enhancing cancer patient care. This innovative diagnostic method involves detecting and analyzing circulating tumor DNA, circulating tumor RNA (including microRNA, long non-coding RNA, and messenger RNA), DNA or RNA from exosomes, and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the bloodstream. Originating from primary tumors or metastases, CTCs are cancer cells that can be found as individual cells or as clusters in peripheral blood. Despite advancements, accurately quantifying CTCs remains challenging, creating the need for a reliable method that can universally identify CTCs from various tumors, swiftly, efficiently, and with minimal disruption to patient care. A pioneering study has now demonstrated a technique that can identify single cancer cells in a blood sample, opening doors to more customized and targeted cancer treatments.

A team of academics including researchers from Keele University (Keele, UK) employed Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) microspectroscopy, a technique for separating cells based on their biochemical composition using infrared light. For the first time, combining FTIR microspectroscopy with a machine learning algorithm led to the successful identification of a single lung cancer cell in a blood sample. This breakthrough supports the move towards personalized medicine, which significantly enhances patient treatment by customizing therapies to match individual profiles and cancer types.

By leveraging this technique to detect individual tumor cells in the bloodstream, it becomes possible to more accurately evaluate patients at various stages of cancer care, from initial diagnosis and staging to monitoring treatment responses and ongoing surveillance. This advancement could refine the personalized medicine strategy, offering a more precise alternative to current cancer cell detection methods. Following this initial success, the research team has received approval to extend their study to include blood samples from patients with a variety of cancers, beyond lung cancer, aiming to validate the effectiveness of this technique across different cancer types.

“Identifying cancer cells in blood using this technique could be a game-changer in the management of patients with cancer,” said Josep Sulé-Suso, Professor of Oncology at Keele University.

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