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Nanotech transforms blood tumor cells into viable Dx tool

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Scientists in Japan and California have found a way to use nanotechnology to capture and release tumor cells circulating in the blood. They believe the technological breakthrough will enable what are known as circulating tumor cells (CTCs) to become powerful new diagnostic tools for cancer and cancer metastasis, offering a far kinder alternative than an invasive biopsy.

The team, from Japan's RIKEN Advanced Science Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles, identified a new nanoscale device with Velcro-like sticky qualities. How is this useful? Consider that tumor cells break way from a cancer site and circulate in the bloodstream, spreading their damage in the body. But the nano-device filters the blood and in doing so draws the cancer cells to stick to temperature-responsive polymer brushes, which coat the tiny device. As the researchers note, they'll stick to the tumor cells at 37 degrees Celsius. But once scientists cool those brushes to 4 degrees Celsius, they release the tumor cells.

Existing devices like this do the cell-capture thing pretty well, the researchers explain, but the release portion? Not so much. Hsiao-hua Yu of the RIKEN Institute, the paper's lead researcher, explained to FierceMedicalDevices via email that being able to release those cells for study opens all kinds of possibilities that can lead to better cancer management and treatment.

"Understanding more about circulating tumor cells will provide more critical information on cancer management, particularly on cancer metastasis and treatment," he told us. "If we continue to obtain more information about circulating tumor cells [by] utilizing our platform to capture these cells that are rare, and preserve them for biochemical tests, we would plausibly, in the near future, establish CTC as a novel diagnostic tool for cancer."

Yu added that he sees the technology as providing "easier-to-access, cheaper and more accessible tests for cancer treatment" than existing technologies such as MRI or PET equipment, let alone a biopsy. That may be, but more research is needed to advance the work and ensure that CTCs and the enhanced nanoscale device can be used as a viable diagnostic enterprise. For more details on the research, check out the journal Advanced Materials.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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