nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Project To Develop A Blood Test To Identify Individual Cancer Cells

Interesting concept.  Uncertain utility.

There are several media articles today (here's one:  Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan 3) about an agreement between Massachusetts General Hospital and a company called Veridex to look at developing a blood test that can identify single cancer cells.  Note that we're not talking about a product, just an agreement to develop something along these lines.

It's not that no work has been done; an earlier attempt to develop a chip that could count wayward cancer cells was developed by Mass Gen, but it couldn't hang on to the abnormal cells as they were seen.  This partnership will attempt to develop the needed technology to gather the cancer cells that are floating in the bloodstream for analysis.

You can see the potential value here:  tumors, although they may initially exist as a single mass, lose cells that float away into the bloodstream.  A simple blood sample that could pick up on these stray lambs, that have lost their way, could show that a cancer was in development at an early stage, identify the type, and point to where the origin is.  Neato.

However, there's some evidence to show that most of us who don't have cancer still produce cancer cells on a regular basis.  Our bodies are just very good at finding cells that don't belong and destroying them before they get out of control.  This is not hard to imagine:  cells divide all the time and defects occur in the process, more as we get older.  Our immune system would have to be on guard throughout life to pick up these anomalies and eliminate them.

In fact, one hypothesis is that we get cancer as a disease--at least some types of cancer--because our ability to fight these cells--when they occur--breaks down.

So, going back to the blood test, you can see how a positive test for individual cancer cells might be misleading.  We're just picking up the usual strays that the body hasn't dealt with yet.  We might over-react to the result, or just be confused as to whether the finding of a cancer cell means anything.

But, this is worthy research, and I'm interested to see what they come up with.

Doc D

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