The Technology Behind Cancer Treatment is Always Advancing

30 March 2011

Back in November of last year I discussed a new technology on one of my Fox News segments called “Liquid Biopsy”.  Through the use of microscopic silicon fibers coated in antibodies this technology allows us to filter a person’s blood to discover cancer cells circulating within their body.  As many readers may know, after cancer metastasizes, or spreads to organs outside of its originating area, it is much more difficult to treat.  That’s why the information that we can gather from a liquid biopsy is so important.

Early versions in 2007 were about 60% accurate, and over the past couple of years that accuracy rate has been brought up to 90%.  The test is now capable of detecting a single cancer cell in an 8cc sample of blood.  Last week an article was published describing how Mehmet Toner, a bioengineer from Harvard, and Brian Wardle, an aeronautical engineer from MIT, worked together to further improve on the process by switching the filtering method from silicon fibers to porous carbon nanotubes.

In the original version the silicon fibers were coated with antibodies, and as blood passed around the fibers cancerous cells would stick to them.  It was possible, however, that some cells may never pass by the fibers due to the gaps between them, preventing the cancer from being detected.  To increase the accuracy of the test the switch to carbon nanotubes was made.  These nanotubes not only allow blood to flow around them, but through them, greatly increasing the odds that cancer cells will come in contact with their antibody coated walls.

Another effect of using porous filtering structures is that they can detect more than just cancer cells, they can also detect much smaller viruses such as HIV.  This means that in a couple years HIV screening will no longer require labs and expensive equipment.  This technology can offer doctors a simple, portable, cheap, and accurate method for diagnosing patients, which would be especially useful in developing countries.

While the technology is still 3-5 years away from clinical use, seeing these advancements in the process is extremely exciting.  Any methods that we can use to further provide a better level of care and quality of life to patients is welcome.

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