By Alex Perdikis
Cancer is constantly in the news. Every week, headlines announce promising new treatments and tests, along with sobering statistics on cancer’s ravaging effects.
Any advancement in technology and testing that can help patients is another step in the right direction. There are many tests available for genetic cancers, pre-cancerous conditions, cancer that is already full blown, and cancer that is in remission.
But what if there was one single blood test that could look for any cancer, even the smallest amount, located anywhere in the body?
For patients already undergoing so many invasive procedures, this would be a phenomenal advancement in care and and huge measure for proactive treatment. The amazing news it that this is not just an idea, it is already happening.
The problematic issue with cancer and early detection is that all it takes for cancer to start growing is a few cancerous cells. Once they grow and spread enough to provoke symptoms and positive test results, treatment becomes that much more difficult. Early detection is a big key to successful treatment options.
What a Drop of Blood Can Show
SRI Biosciences has developed a test called Fiber-optic Array Scanning Technology (FASTcell) that can rapidly detect a tiny amount of cancerous cells with one blood sample. It is important that testing not even take weeks to provide results, because weeks may be too long when it comes to beginning a treatment regimen.
“What distinguishes FASTcell from other sensors that look for cancer cells is the ability to scan very rapidly,” states the senior director of the Center for Cancer and Metabolism in SRI Biosciences, Lidia Sumbucetti. “We can scan 26 million cells in a minute. That allows us to survey all of the blood cells in the sample. This gives us a high sensitivity to find cancer even when there’s only one or two cells present. We can find one single cell in a whole blood sample. We compare it to trying to find a single star in a whole constellation of stars.”
In addition to extremely fast test results, this test also can determine the genetic makeup of the cancer cells, which leads to treatment that is specifically targeted to the particular cancer. Instead of time spent on treatments that may or may not work, specific treatment can be started from the beginning. This eliminates the difficult, time-consuming trial and error that has hampered treatment attempts in the past.
From Revolutionary to Routine
“It is revolutionary,” says Victor Vesculescu, co-director of cancer biology and professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins University Cancer Center. “I think in the next five years, it will become part of an annual physical.” Johns Hopkins University has studied the “liquid biopsies” of hundreds of cancer patients.
Illumina announced in early January 2016 that they are forming a new company called GRAIL. This company will focus on blood based cancer testing and is receiving over than $100 million dollars in funding.
Keep your eyes open for more news on this incredibly exciting and promising research as it continues forward.