Pulse 107: Finding and Zapping Spreading Cancer Cells in the Blood

17 June 2019
Giulio Prisco

Cancer in Blood

A new device called Cytophone (see below) integrates diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities, using the same laser to detect and kill the cancer cells right in the bloodstream.

As reported in IEEE Spectrum, the system “accurately detected these cells in 27 out of 28 people with cancer, with a sensitivity that is about 1,000 times better than current technology.”

“That’s an achievement in itself, but the research team was also able to kill a high percentage of the cancer-spreading cells, in real time, as they raced through the veins of the participants.”

“We are developing the robust, easy-to-use portable and wearable Cytophone versions with advanced small lasers, which will be available for cancer clinics across the country to start a multi-center clinical trial involving more melanoma patients,” said research leader Vladimir Zharov. “Our goal is to determine whether Cytophone-based early diagnosis combined with destroying CTCs is effective as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with conventional therapies in preventing or at least inhibiting metastasis.”

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Laser destroys cancer cells circulating in the blood. Scientists at University of Arkansas have demonstrated the ability to detect and kill circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood using a noninvasive device, called Cytophone, that integrates a laser, ultrasound and phone technologies. In a paper published in Science Translational Medicine, the scientists report that the new device is 1,000 times more sensitive than other methods at detecting CTCs in the blood of patients with melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. The device is also able to destroy the detected CTCs, resulting in a large drop in CTC numbers and preventing spread of the disease to other parts of the body, known as metastasis.

Efficient high resolution 3D tissue imaging technique. Researchers at Penn State University have developed a new, 3D tissue imaging technique, called X-ray histotomography. The new technique, described in a study published in eLife, allows researchers to study the details of cells in a zebrafish tissue sample at high resolution, without having to cut it into slices. The scientists are persuaded that the research could lead to better diagnosis and treatment for a variety of diseases, including cancer.

Jumping genes enhance CRISPR gene editing. Scientists at Columbia University have developed a gene-editing tool that inserts any DNA sequence into the genome without cutting, fixing a major shortcoming of existing CRISPR technology. A research paper published in Nature describes how the scientists harnessed transposons, or "jumping genes," to create a gene-editing tool that can be programed to insert any DNA sequence into any site in a bacterial genome.

Homing beacon for chemotherapy drugs. Researchers at University of Notre Dame have developed small drug-targeting molecules that may be hundreds to thousands of times more effective at delivering potent drugs to desired sites of disease, including cancer. A study published in ACS Central Science, reports that the compound was developed from a new material, described as an easily injected hydrogel, which acts as a “homing” cue to attract drug molecules to sites bearing a tumor.

Advance toward autonomous BCI. Biomedical engineers at University of Houston have developed a brain-computer interface, powered by artificial intelligence, which can sense when its user is expecting a reward by examining the interactions between single-neuron activities and the information flowing to these neurons. The research results, published in eneuro, could represent a significant step toward an autonomously updating brain-computer interface (BCI) that improves on its own, learning about its subject without having to be programmed.

Offective ‘one-two punch’ cancer therapy. Researchers at University of Montreal have developed a two-step combination therapy to destroy ovarian cancer cells. In the first step, the cells are forced into senescence, and in the second step the cells are destroyed and eliminated using senolysis. In a study published in Nature Communications, the researchers show the superior therapeutic effectiveness of the "one-two punch" on cells of ovarian cancer patients, based on manipulation of the state of cellular aging.

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