Microchips to spy on cancer

Cancer can be a dreadful and devastating disease, particularly when it is not discovered at an early stage. Consequently, any new device that can help us detect cancer is most welcomed.

Great news! American researchers have developed a device called the “CTC-chip”. This microchip plays the role of a spy in the bloodstream by selectively and effectively identifying circulating tumour cells (CTCs). In fact, circulating tumour cells rarely limit themselves to their original surroundings. Various tumours, particularly those in the breast and the colon, commonly invade surrounding tissues during the early stages of their development. During this process, viable cancerous cells from the main tumour are carried through the bloodstream. It is thought that these cells likely generate secondary cancerous tumours.

We could be lead to believe that detecting circulating tumour cells in the bloodstream is futile, as it typically happens at “too-late” a stage. However, this is not always the case. Many cells actually die quite quickly once they enter the bloodstream, and only a small amount of them have metastatic potential.

Nevertheless, circulating tumours cells that derive from an original tumour are very difficult to isolate in the blood. This is partly due to the fact that they are typically found in minute concentrations. The highly sensitive CTC-chip could help specialists detect and diagnose cancer at a much earlier stage. Armed with this new technology, they could measure how well a patient responds to his or her current cancer therapies, and ultimately adapt the course of treatment to the evolution of the tumour. Counting and characterizing circulating tumour cells in the bloodstream could also help eliminate the need for biopsies. Biopsies are procedures that are invasive, painful, and not at all pleasant for any patient to be subjected to.

Slowly but surely, science is consistently gaining ground in the fight against cancer. We will keep you posted.

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