Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found a potential means of early cancer diagnosis with “an easy way to use gravity or simple forces”. Early detection of cancer is often key to effective treatment, so this could be a breakthrough in the areas of mesothelioma and other potentially fatal cancers that are often diagnosed late.
Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, is often characterized by symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and fatigue, so it can often be confused for other respiratory illnesses. Thus, the cancer is not identified or treated until later in the disease, which can have a dramatic effect on survival rates.
The researchers at Johns Hopkins have patented the use of a “microfluidic device” to sort tiny matter such as cells by gravity. This may allow scientists in the near future to use this process as a diagnostic tool, sorting and identifying cancer cells earlier than is currently possible.
“The ultimate goal is to develop a simple device that can be used in routine checkups by health care providers,” said doctoral student Bernate, who is lead author on the paper. “It could be used to detect the handful of circulating tumor cells that have managed to survive among billions of normal blood cells. This could save millions of lives.”
Meanwhile, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers also report that they have identified a way to clearly spot circulating tumor cells. Mostly still under development, CTC tests may be the next non-invasive tools used for early detection and monitoring diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.