Using a CTC-chip that measures the level of circulating tumor cells in blood can provide an important insight into the prognosis and potential rates of recurrent disease, according to data from a developing study at Massachusetts General Hospital, which was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 101st Annual Meeting 2010.

An instructor of surgery and bioengineering at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Sunitha Nagrath, Ph.D., said her research team found that 42% of men in her study with localized low-grade prostate cancer and in those who had undergone surgery three months prior still had tumor cells circulating in their blood stream.

Nagrath said, “These are patient groups in whom we would normally not expect to see circulating tumor cells, so it gives us a tremendous amount of information about their risk for a prostate cancer recurrence.”

Since circulating tumor cells are believed to be the root cause of metastasis in a number of cancers, she believes that the identification of these circulating tumor cells can help identify men who are at risk for prostate cancer metastasis. Since circulating tumor cells are extremely rare, with estimates that there might be as little as one per one billion normal cells, identifying these calls can be a major challenge.

The CTC-chip, which in May 2009 received a Stand Up To Cancer Dream Team grant, may offer one method of identification that shows promise in searching for these needle in the hay stack cells. According to researchers, the CTC-chip can capture approximately 200 circulating tumor cells from a teaspoon of blood.

Nagrath’s team performed their analysis on 20 men with early-stage prostate cancer and found circulating tumor cells in 42% of their subjects. In men with advanced prostate cancer circulating tumor cells were found in 64 percent of the subjects.

The research team was also able to identify circulating tumor cells nine days after surgery and also more than three months post-surgery. Researchers believe that this research into circulating tumor cells will eventually be able to provide vital prognostic information, allowing earlier treatment with men who are vulnerable to developing advanced prostate cancer.

Joel T Nowak, MA, MSW