Johnson and Johnson Partner with Researchers on New Non-Invasive Cancer Test

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Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a prototype of a microchip that can detect cancer tumor cells at very low levels in the bloodstream. Pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson will be partnering with the Cancer Center to help develop and bring to market this sophisticated non-invasive test.

Test Could Detect Rare Tumor Cells in Blood

The five-year partnership, a $30 million deal between Veridex LLC (a Johnson and Johnson company) and Ortho Biotech Oncology R&D, is aimed at refining and commercializing a test that could allow physicians to better target cancer treatment regimens and monitor patients’ response to drugs.

The researchers at MGH and four other research institutions have already received a $15 million grant from the organization Stand Up To Cancer, but the technology is so expensive – each chip costs about $500 – that “we’re limited by our ability to make it fast, easy, cheap, and something that could be done on a global scale,” says Dr. Daniel Haber, director of the Cancer Center.

The test so far has been used experimentally in about 200 patients, says Haber. It works by using miniscule channels carved into a silicon chip, coated with a special glue-like substance to detect extremely rare cells that have detached from a cancerous tumor and is now circulating at low levels in the bloodstream (CTCs). When blood filters through the channels, the technology is able to pick up, on average, about 10 cancer cells per milliliter of blood in patients with metastatic disease.

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By detecting cancer cells through a blood test, doctors could better diagnose and follow the disease course. This would also allow for genetic testing of the cancer cells which could help target treatments toward a particular mutation.

The initial uses of the test will be for research purposes only, but Haber hopes that it may someday be used in clinical practice perhaps as a replacement for biopsy, an invasive procedure that is one of the few current ways doctors get key information about a cancer’s size and characteristics.

“If the technology gets more and more sensitive, we may be able to use this as an early diagnostic,’’ Haber said. “You might be able to pick up any tumor which invades into the blood system, and that could mean there is a chance of catching tumors before they spread.’’

The test is called CellSearch but is still years away from being available.

Other cancer tests in research:
Home Colon Cancer Screening Test in the Works
New Ovarian Cancer Test Looks Promising
Risk of Prostate Cancer Death Predicted with Single Blood Test

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