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Developing a mini microscope that could help researchers detect the seeds of cancer earlier

An important aspect of cancer treatment is stopping the spread of the disease. Yet the tiny fragments of tumors that travel in the bloodstream spreading cancer, commonly called circulating tumor cells (CTC), are notoriously difficult to detect unless they're present in high quantities. Now, through the development of a mini microscope, a team of Stanford researchers is working to improve the detection of CTCs when they're at low levels in the bloodstream.

From a Stanford news story:

Currently, doctors draw a patient's blood and analyze it using special antibodies to detect the presence of the [CTCs].


A major advantage with the microscopic technique, [Bonnie King, PhD, an instructor in the medical school] said, is the ability to screen much larger volumes of blood, rather than just a small vial collected from a patient. This will be done using a method called in vivo flow cytometry – a laser-based technology for counting cells in a live subject.


To date, the blood-scan group has focused on developing the method in mice, taking advantage of the thin transparent tissue of the ear to image fluorescent cells traversing the small blood vessels below the skin.

Soon the researchers will move the microscope to a clinical setting to conduct a proof-of-principle test of the technique in humans.

As the article notes, the research is still in its early stages; it began only a year ago when the Stanford team was awarded a grant by the Stanford Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: Dynamic duo: Nanoparticle/prodrug combination finds and fights tumors, files reportsResearchers use ultrafast microscopic camera to detect cancer cells in the bloodstreamTumors can grow for decades before blood-based detection, study shows and Study finds huge genetic diversity in cancer cells

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