Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a device they hope will aid doctors in diagnosing cancers, give more accurate prognoses, and test treatment options without traditional biopsies.
The university developed a microfluidic chip that uses an advanced electronics material, or graphene oxide, to capture elusive circulating tumor cells from blood. In early-stage cancer patients, cancer cells account for less than one in every billion cells, “so catching them is tougher than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack,” say U-M researchers.
“Circulating tumor cells will play a significant role in the early diagnosis of cancer and to help us understand if treatments are working in our cancer patients by serving as a ‘liquid’ biopsy to assess treatment responses in real time,” said Dr. Diane Simeone, of the Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery at the U-M Medical School, and director of the Translational Oncology Program. “Studies of circulating tumor cells will also help us understand the basic biologic mechanisms by which cancer cells metastasize or spread to distant organs — the major cause of death in cancer patients.”
The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.
“If we can get these technologies to work, it will advance new cancer drugs and revolutionize the treatment of cancer patients,” said Dr. Max Wicha, professor of oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In related news, the legacy of Alexander J. Trotman, former CEO and chairman at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, continues to live on at the University of Michigan, where his wife recently established a fund that will provide psychiatric support services to patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Established to recognize what would have been Trotman’s 80th birthday this year, the Alexander J. and Valerie A. Trotman Cancer Support Fund will support the Cancer Center’s Psych/Oncology department, which provides services to address the social, emotional, and spiritual needs associated with cancer. The services are funded via philanthropy and are offered free of charge to patients undergoing cancer treatment at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In 2006, a family gift established the Alexander J. Trotman Professorship in Leukemia Research. Trotman, born in Middlesex, England, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996, worked at Ford from 1955 until his retirement in 1999.
A year prior, a persistent headache caused Trotman to go to the emergency room in England, where he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died. The cause was an undiagnosed leukemia that he likely had for only a short time.