New blood test for cancer

Test can detect one cell in millions

KANSAS CITY, Kansas - The University of Kansas Cancer Center is very excited about what their new machine can do.

"We are the only ones who have this instrument in the state of Kansas," said Sitta Sittamplam, Professor of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

He’s talking about a modest looking machine that could make a big difference in the lives of cancer patients. It detects rare cells in the blood that have been found to indicate the growth of cancer.

"There are only a few cells that circulate very, very early on in the development of cancer, so if you can detect them they will be very useful in starting an early therapy," he said.

Among the millions of cells in a typical blood sample this machine can find those put out by a spreading cancer.

"They can be used as a diagnostic to detect cancer very early even before an X-ray or CT can detect them," Sittamplam said.

It's almost literally finding a needle in a haystack.

"Maybe one to ten, one to twenty cells among millions so this technology can actually detect very few cells, up to one cell even," he said.

And that kind of sensitivity means not only early detection but more effective treatment.

"We have used it to actually test new drugs in the pharmaceutical industry as to how patients are responding," Sittamplam said.

The machine and the test are expensive, but within a few years should be more widely available.

"It's a very effective...very state of the art technology," he said.

The indicator cells also appear as a cancer is relapsing, when the cells are migrating from the original site to other organs.

The FDA has approved the test for colorectal, prostate and breast cancer, making it another weapon in the war on cancer.


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