A Breakthrough in Detecting Cancer

Posted by jonathan on 2/21/2017 to News

“Liquid biopsy” chip , developed by Worcester polytechnic institute detects metastatic cancer cells in a drop of blood. It was developed by mechanical engineers to develop, trap and identify cancer cells with even the smallest drop of blood. The breakthrough technology uses a simple method using a mechanical (not medical)method that has shown more promise and more effectiveness then other highly advanced ways, such as microfluidic approach, of trapping and isolating cells.

The WPI devices uses antibodies attached to an array of carbon nanotubes (a tubular molecule composed of a large number of carbon atoms) at the bottom of a tiny well or container. Cancer cells settle at the bottom of these wells, where they selectively bind or bond to the antibodies based on their surface markers (unlike other devises, the chip can also trap tiny structures called exosomes ( cell-derived vesicles that are present in many and perhaps all biological fluids, including blood, urine, and cultured medium of cell cultures ), produced by cancer cells… According to WPI. This liquid biopsy technology is called NANOTECHNOLOGY and soon could become the basis of a simple lab test that can detect early warning signs and help physicians select treatments targeted to the specific cancer.

Those who know anything about cancer, metastatic cancer(also known simply as stage 4 cancer) the prognosis is at best...POOR, so a technology that could detect these circulating tumor cells before they have a chance to form new “colonies) of tumors in other areas could greatly increase a patients survival rate. Now

, above, we talked about “the wells”… each well holds an array of tiny elements and each element at the bottom holds antibodies attached to carbon nanotubes right? Now, each attaches selectively to each type of cancer cell type based on genetic markers. The chip, or devise is set up to capture different cancer cell types.


Liquid biopsy is fairly new as far as the chip is concerned, however, the technology of liquid biopsy has been around for a few years and even though it has generated excitement in the lab, there isn’t much in the clinic level. The only liquid biopsy currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical use is a prognostic survival tool with no potential to guide treatment decisions. The best way to prevent stage 4 cancer of course, is early detection and that's what the ‘LIQUID CHIP” will do, although it is not approved by the FDA yet.

Work from 2 different groups shows how liquid biopsies are being used in the lab to identify tumors at a very early stage, monitor them for metastasis, and even pick up signs of early treatment resistance. In the future, instead of extensive imaging and invasive tissue biopsies, liquid biopsies could be used to guide cancer treatment decisions and perhaps even screen for tumors that are not yet visible on imaging.

So, in reviewing the differences between a normal liquid biopsy as opposed to NANOTECHNOLOGY is, that nanotechnology will basically tell if cancer or cancer cells will eventually go into stage 4 cancer and with regular liquid tests we currently have approved today, these wont “tell the future”. Now, for many reasons, this new technology is welcome because the most common way to detect cancer (other then x-rays, MRI, etc) are tissue biopsies.

A biopsy is a medical test commonly performed by a surgeon, interventional radiologist, or an interventional cardiologist involving sampling of cells or tissues for examination. It is the medical removal of tissue from a living subject to determine the presence or extent of a disease.

Tissue Biopsy Can Be Challenging .

Bone marrow biopsy

A needle suctioning out liquid bone marrow from hipbone

Your doctor may recommend a bone marrow biopsy if an abnormality is detected in your blood or if your doctor suspects cancer has originated in or traveled to your bone marrow.

Bone marrow is the spongy material inside some of your larger bones where blood cells are produced. Analyzing a sample of bone marrow may reveal what's causing your blood problem.

Bone marrow biopsy is commonly used to diagnose a variety of blood problems — both noncancerous and cancerous — including blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. A bone marrow biopsy may also detect cancers that started elsewhere and traveled to the bone marrow.

During a bone marrow biopsy, your doctor draws a sample of bone marrow out of the back of your hipbone using a long needle. In some cases, your doctor may biopsy marrow from other bones in your body. You receive a local anesthetic before a bone marrow biopsy in order to minimize discomfort during the procedure.

Endoscopic biopsy

Illustration showing endoscopy

During endoscopy, your doctor uses a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a light on the end to see structures inside your body. Special tools are passed through the tube to take a small sample of tissue to be analyzed.

What type of endoscopic biopsy you undergo depends on where the suspicious area is located. Tubes used in an endoscopic biopsy can be inserted through your mouth, rectum, urinary tract or a small incision in your skin. Examples of endoscopic biopsy procedures include cystoscopy to collect tissue from inside your bladder, bronchoscopy to get tissue from inside your lung and colonoscopy to collect tissue from inside your colon.

Depending on the type of endoscopic biopsy you undergo, you may receive a sedative or anesthetic before the procedure.

Needle biopsy

Illustration showing thyroid biopsy

During a needle biopsy, your doctor uses a special needle to extract cells from a suspicious area.

A needle biopsy is often used on tumors that your doctor can feel through your skin, such as suspicious breast lumps and enlarged lymph nodes. When combined with an imaging procedure, such as X-ray, needle biopsy can be used to collect cells from a suspicious area that can't be felt through the skin.

Needle biopsy procedures include:

  • Fine-needle aspiration. During fine-needle aspiration, a long, thin needle is inserted into the suspicious area. A syringe is used to draw out fluid and cells for analysis.

  • Core needle biopsy. A larger needle with a cutting tip is used during core needle biopsy to draw a column of tissue out of a suspicious area.

  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy. During vacuum-assisted biopsy, a suction device increases the amount of fluid and cells that is extracted through the needle. This can reduce the number of times the needle must be inserted to collect an adequate sample.

  • Image-guided biopsy. Image-guided biopsy combines an imaging procedure — such as X-ray, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound — with a needle biopsy.

    Image-guided biopsy allows your doctor to access suspicious areas that can't be felt through the skin, such as abnormalities on the liver, lung or prostate. Using real-time images, your doctor can make sure the needle reaches the correct spot.

You'll receive a local anesthetic to numb the area being biopsied in order to minimize the pain.

Learing more through blood

As you can see above, going over our current cancer detection methods, tissue biopsies COULD be considered, within the next 10-20 years, obsolete. That's where the excitement comes from. In the past, we have also talked about dogs being used to detect cancer, or certain types of cancer, and that the studies (lab studies) showed extreme promise. But we find that a lot of money is being granted to WPI because these new studies show extreme promise in almost replacing the tissue biopsy.

There is good reason to want to learn about cancer through the blood, For most tumors, a tissue biopsy is quite challenging, in that it's costly, painful, and potentially risky for the patient.

The research by both teams illustrates that there is "a lot of reason to be excited" about liquid biopsies, "Together, both of these papers show that you can detect resistance as it's happening in real time."

Although the current FDA-approved liquid biopsy measures intact circulating tumor cells (CTC) to give a prognosis of overall survival, the potential predictive value of ctDNA is much more exciting.

"Predictive markers are better because they help guide treatment decisions. In a sense, the ctDNA liquid biopsy allows us to understand specifically what kind of molecular changes are happening in the tumor in real time, which is a very big step beyond where CTCs are today, clinically." And, here is the most important thing, is that this nanotechnology can almost show the future.

(Source on Tissue biopsy by the Mayo clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/biopsy/ART-20043922)