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UCLA Cancer Researchers Develop 'Liquid Biopsy'

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liquid biopsy introduced by UCLA researchers Danila Bolshakov/PhotoSpin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have hit a major milestone in cancer research. A method has been improved for capturing and analyzing cancer cells that break away from patients’ tumors and circulate in the blood.

With improvements to a device called NanoVelcro, even single cancer cells can be accurately detected and safely isolated from patient blood samples for continuous analysis, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Angewandte Chemie and is featured on the cover of the journal's March 2013 print issue.

For a cancer patient, when primary cancer cells called circulating tumor cells (CTCs) break away from a tumor and move through the body via the blood supply, it’s among the worst possible news.

That’s how cells “metastasize” or spread from one tumor to other parts of the body in the process of forming new cancer areas in the patient.

But these traveling cells can provide doctors with critical information about the cancer type, the characteristics of each individual cancer, and its possible progression when they are isolated early from the patient’s blood over the course of the disease.

Doctors can also tell from CTCs how to tailor a personalized treatment approach for each patient rather than a "one-size" regimen that may not be as effective.

That’s the beauty of the NanoVelcro chip, a nearly microscopic device developed by Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

When blood is passed through the tiny chip, it encounters hair-like nanofibers coated with antibodies from the immune system that exactly match proteins on the surface of cancer cells. These proteins act like tiny Velcro, trapping CTCs and isolating them for further studies.

Think of the process as a "liquid biopsy", said lead scientist and nanotechnology pioneer Hsian-Rong Tseng, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, and a member of UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute and Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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