Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that are released from primary tumors into the bloodstream, thereby contributing to the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. They circulate in very low concentration in the peripheral blood and are not readily detected with conventional technologies. The Holy Grail of cancer diagnostics is the “liquid biopsy”: the ability to use the CTC information available in a blood specimen to diagnose and characterize cancer.
We have developed an innovative technology for rare cell detection called FAST (Fiber-optic Array Scanning Technology) that detects CTCs with high sensitivity and speed. For many years, our laboratory has investigated better ways to detect cancer and personalize and monitor treatments by identifying and characterizing CTCs from multiple cancer types, such as breast, lung and prostate cancers. Our characterization of CTCs analyzes protein biomarkers and genetic traits to provide information about the specific nature of a given patient’s disease and identify potential effective therapies.
The large majority (85–90%) of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and this aggressive disease has low survival rates. Producing an effective liquid biopsy technique could increase survival and potentially eliminate traditional biopsies, which are not only expensive but are invasive in ways that take an emotional and physical toll on patients.
Our goal is to develop new methods that can accurately detect CTCs from NSCLC with high sensitivity, thereby identifying cancer at a much earlier stage, when treatment can be much more successful. In addition, we propose to develop novel multiplexed assays to characterize molecular targets on CTCs at the single-cell level. These biomarkers will provide extensive, real-time information to allow treatment to be tailored to a patient’s specific cancer. This study is designed to generate data that can be used to pave the way for personalized medicine and better outcomes for NSCLC patients.