Filtering the blood to keep cancer in check

December 16, 2015 by Majid Warkiani
Dr Majid Warkiani. Credit: Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, UNSW

A new diagnostic system used to detect cancer cells in small blood samples could next be turned towards filtering a patient's entire system to remove those dangerous cells – like a dialysis machine for cancer – says an Australian researcher who helped develop the system.

The technique was developed for diagnosis, and is capable of detecting (and removing) a tiny handful of cancer-spreading from amongst the billions of healthy cells in a small blood sample.

The revolutionary , which works to diagnose cancer at a tenth of the cost of competing technologies, is now in clinical trials in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia, and is in the process of being commercialised by Clearbridge BioMedics PteLtd in Singapore.

"It's like a non-invasive 'liquid biopsy' that can flag the presence of any type of solid cancer – like lung, breast, bowel, and so on – without the need for surgery," says Dr Majid Warkiani, a lecturer at the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of New South Wales, and a project leader at the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW.

The initial challenge in developing the early-warning diagnosis system was to find those few amongst billions of healthy blood cells. That challenge was met by a system that 'spins out' and isolates circulating tumour cells (CTCs), which are shed into the bloodstream from a solid tumour and can establish tumours elsewhere in the body—the mechanism by which cancer spreads through the body.

Isolation of Circulating Tumour Cells

The 'liquid biopsy' can thus be used both for early cancer diagnosis and for monitoring a patient's response to treatment.

But the potential for the new system goes far beyond just diagnosis.

If the filtering system could be scaled up, a cancer patient's entire blood supply could potentially be similarly filtered, removing the dangerous cells and cycling the rest of the patient's blood back into their system. It would be similar to dialysis treatment for kidney patients.

"It would be a revolution in cancer treatment. You would keep filtering out the dangerous cells, prolonging the life of the patient," says Dr Warkiani. "There is still a long way to go—including securing money and support in Australia—before this is possible.'

But he believes this new technology will become one of the essential components of routine cancer management in the near future.

"A therapeutic version of this system, used for blood cleansing, could make the cancer a chronic disease and decrease drastically its mortality rate," he says.

Majid was the NSW winner of Fresh Science, a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Fresh Science is helping to build a cadre of skilled science communicators. In 2015, Fresh Science ran in every mainland state, with 180 early-career researchers nominating for the six Fresh Science events held this year in Melbourne, Townsville, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.

Over 50 early-career researchers nominated for Fresh Science NSW, which was held at the Australian Museum (training) and Three Wise Monkeys Hotel (public challenge event) and was supported by the Australian Museum and the University of New South Wales.

Explore further: New technique efficiently captures and grows tumour cells to guide selection of drug therapy

Related Stories

New technique efficiently captures and grows tumour cells to guide selection of drug therapy

December 1, 2015
Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a novel technique to efficiently culture clusters containing circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in 14 days that could be used to predict the outcome of ...

DNA in blood can track cancer development and response in real time

November 4, 2015
Scientists have shown for the first time that tumour DNA shed into the bloodstream can be used to track cancers in real time as they evolve and respond to treatment, according to a new Cancer Research UK study published in ...

Blood test could match cancer patients to best treatments

October 15, 2015
UK-funded scientists have developed a blood test that could help pair cancer patients with the most suitable therapy for their disease and then track the tumour's progress to see if the treatment is working, according to ...

Trapping cells that tumors release into the bloodstream allows fast and sensitive genetic analysis

October 7, 2015
A simple and non-invasive method to detect cancer-related mutations without direct biopsy sampling of tumors has been developed by A*STAR researchers.

Imaging test detects aggressive and treatment-resistant cancers

December 10, 2015
Scientists have developed a new imaging test that could enable doctors to identify more dangerous tumours before they spread around the body - and tailor treatment accordingly.

Blood test can help some bowel cancer patients avoid unnecessary drug side-effects

March 25, 2015
Manchester researchers have provided early evidence to suggest that a blood test could be used to identify bowel cancer patients that may benefit from more intensive chemotherapy.

Recommended for you

Lung cancer triggers pulmonary hypertension

November 17, 2017
Shortness of breath and respiratory distress often increase the suffering of advanced-stage lung cancer patients. These symptoms can be triggered by pulmonary hypertension, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart ...

Researchers discover an Achilles heel in a lethal leukemia

November 16, 2017
Researchers have discovered how a linkage between two proteins in acute myeloid leukemia enables cancer cells to resist chemotherapy and showed that disrupting the linkage could render the cells vulnerable to treatment. St. ...

Computer program finds new uses for old drugs

November 16, 2017
Researchers at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have developed a computer program to find new indications for old drugs. The computer program, called DrugPredict, ...

Pharmacoscopy improves therapy for relapsed blood cancer in a first clinical trial

November 16, 2017
Researchers at CeMM and the Medical University of Vienna presented a preliminary report in The Lancet Hematology on the clinical impact of an integrated ex vivo approach called pharmacoscopy. The procedures measure single-cell ...

Wider sampling of tumor tissues may guide drug choice, improve outcomes

November 15, 2017
A new study focused on describing genetic variations within a primary tumor, differences between the primary and a metastatic branch of that tumor, and additional diversity found in tumor DNA in the blood stream could help ...

A new strategy for prevention of liver cancer development

November 14, 2017
Primary liver cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide, and its incidences and mortality are increasing rapidly in the United Stated. In late stages of the malignancy, there are no effective ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.