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Cancer Center
Medical Care

On the Road to Personalized Cancer Treatments

Researchers from the University of Michigan have developed a way to grow some cancer cells outside the body – and that could lead to better treatment of the disease.

The new technique is more than three times as effective as previous methods, the university said in a news release, and could ultimately lead to more personalized treatment for the illness..

The study focused on circulating tumor cells, which are shed from tumors and circulate through the blood of cancer patients. They’re believed to cause metastasis, the spread of cancer through the body. Metastasis is responsible for nearly 90 percent of deaths from cancer.

The cells are easily captured by drawing blood. But progress in studying them has been slow, because they are rare in early-stage cancer patients.

The capture method developed in the newest study offers a reliable way to get enough circulating tumor cells to analyze from even early-stage patients. It grew new cells from 73 percent of the patients in a recent study, more than three times the success rate of previous methods and a first for early-stage cancers.

The technology can be applied to most cancers, including breast, lung and pancreatic. Dr. Max Wicha, Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, who is working to develop the technology, said, “Cancer cells change constantly and they can quickly develop resistance to a given treatment. A device like this will enable us to follow the cancer’s progression in real time. If a cancer develops resistance to one therapy, we’ll be able to quickly change to a different treatment.”

The findings were published in the journal Oncotarget.

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