New Technology Designed for Cancer Detection

Friday, August 27, 2010:

Photo: Amir Goldkorn, M.D.

Keck School of Medicine of USC researchers, working with engineers at the California Institute of Technology, have developed a new process for detecting circulating tumor cells (CTCs), cancer cells shed by tumors into the bloodstream. The test will allow physicians to more accurately and quickly check the status of a patient's cancer and response to treatment.

The research was led by Amir Goldkorn, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, a Keck School oncologist at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center who specializes in malignancies of the genitourinary tract. His team's paper, "A Cancer Detection Platform which Measures Telomerase Activity from Live Circulating Tumor Cells Captured on a Microfilter," appeared as a Priority Report in Cancer Research on Aug. 15.

"We wanted to develop a new detection platform because current systems rely on binding specific proteins displayed on the surface of CTCs, and therefore fail to capture cells that do not display those proteins; also, current systems cannot capture live cells," Goldkorn said. "In contrast, the new microfilter can capture live CTCs from a broad spectrum of malignancies regardless of their protein markers."

After drawing cancer patients' blood, the researchers passed it through a microfilter made out of a synthetic polymer. The red and white blood cells passed through the slots of the filter while the CTCs remained. Researchers then analyzed the CTCs for the presence of telomerase, an enzyme that allows cancer cells to proliferate and is considered a nearly universal cancer marker.

Goldkorn said the filter system was able to process blood samples in a few minutes, capturing cancer cells with 90 percent efficiency and viability, and detecting telomerase from as few as 25 cancer cells in a standard blood sample. "Live capture of CTCs offers ready access to patient prognosis and response to treatments, which enables physicians to make better decisions about care," he said.

The new process was incorporated into a recently completed, multi-center clinical trial of a new cancer drug for which Goldkorn was one of the principal investigators. An upcoming USC study of another new cancer drug will also use the new filter system.

For information on the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, go to

# # # Xu T, Lu B, Tai Y-C, and Goldkorn A. A Cancer Detection Platform which Measures Telomerase Activity from Live Circulating Tumor Cells Captured on a Microfilter. Cancer Research (August 15, 2010)