With the help of nanotechnology, scientists can now find the one cancerous cell in a blood sample. A new device, called the circulating tumor cell chip, or CTC, was developed at Massachusetts General Hospital by a team of oncologists and bioengineers and is about the size of a credit card. It separates normal blood cells from cancer cells using microscopic magnetic beads. Previously, to test for cancer, doctors needed to take a biopsy, which can be risky when tumors are in hard-to-reach organs like the lungs.
The assay has worked on patients with known lung cancer, and now researchers are trying it, in conjunction with computed tomography (CT) scans, on people not known to have the disease. It could also help doctors quickly determine the efficacy of a given medication by being able to test a patient’s blood before and after treatment.