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Tools & Techniques Diagnostics & prognostics

Gone Fishing

Blood biomarkers for cancer are often present only in low concentrations. But how can you interrogate the entire contents of an adult’s circulatory system? Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir and his colleagues at the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection have developed a unique approach: an injection of magnetic nanoparticles designed to bind circulating tumor cells, combined with a thin, magnetic wire that captures them directly from the vein.

What prompted you to investigate in vivo tumor cell retrieval?

We were trying to develop a strategy that goes after rare biomarkers (such as circulating tumor cells or cell-free tumor DNA) in blood. When shed by small tumors, these markers are rare – and that poses a diagnostic and monitoring problem. To capture them, we needed a strategy to sample the entire blood volume. If you remove a few vials at about 7 mL of blood each, you may get lucky and spot rare biomarkers – but you won’t see much of them. We needed a way to sample the entire five-liter blood volume of an adult. That’s why we came up with inserting a magnetic wire into the patient and leaving it in for about 20 minutes to collect rare biomarkers.

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About the Author

Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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