Cancer Metastasis: Attempting to Detect the Undetectable

Industry : Biotechnology    

Development of cancer therapeutics in the latter half of the past decade has made it possible to bring a number of malignant cases under control and improve patient quality of life to some extent. These cancer types include prostrate, breast or other vital organs related cancers. However, ‘under control’ does not mean cured, a considerable amount of cases that undergo such therapy do continue to be at a high risk of recurrence and require strict constant feedback testing.

Specifically, for five years post treatment or tumor removal, the risk recurrence is high. This poses a threat primarily because of the fact that recurrence can happen even due a minimal amount of ‘leftover’ cells which may traverse to any part of the body and continue to grow. This is the primary step in the life threatening process of metastasis, wherein these cells may find their way to a vital organ and may continue to grow undetected till they become untreatable in nature. If only there was a way to detect metastasis earlier, to be able to check for spread of cancer cells at the earliest stages of the spread.

NIH funded research is underway to develop an innovative biodegradable scaffolds which are expected to be capable of capturing these cells at an early stage of migration. On successful commercial, it is expected that this device would be able to aid in the rapid and early detection of one of the biggest challenges faced by oncologist today, i.e. detecting metastatic cancer.

Furthermore, oncologists are also involved in the development of nanotechnology based microfluidic chips which are focused to capture circulating tumor cells. These are extremely rare cells which traverse through the blood stream and have high capacity for metastasis without actually attaching themselves to any specific tissue or organ. These chips are being designed to have nano channels through which when blood shall pass, they are expected to capture CTC and clusters of CTC.

In the not so distant future, the metastatic cells and CTC which are going to be isolated through the usage of these devices are expected to significantly help oncologists to better understand the complex mechanisms involved with metastasis and maybe even point them in new directions to develop efficient strategies to detect, track and treat cancer.

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