New technology could detect liver cancer from a simple blood sample

APoklepovic.jpgNew technology from ApoCell, Inc. that can detect liver cancer cells circulating in a patient’s bloodstream may remove the need for potentially dangerous liver biopsies, be used as a screening tool and, ultimately, speed up drug development, according to a pilot study presented this week by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Centerresearcher Andrew Poklepovic, M.D., at the AACR Annual Meeting 2012 in Chicago, IL.

Poklepovic, an oncologist at VCU Massey in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care and an assistant professor of internal medicine at VCU School of Medicine , examined ApoCell’s ApoStream™ dielectrophoretic cell separation system in 10 patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer. The study’s results showed that the device could effectively collect circulating tumor cells (CTC) from patients while preserving the cells for analysis outside of the body.

“This is the first time circulating liver cancer cells have been collected without relying on magnetic beads to attach to a protein on the cell’s surface,” says Dr. Poklepovic. “While we tested the device in liver cancer, theoretically it could work in a number of different cancers.”

ApoCell’s capture technique relies on differences in electrical charges between cancer cells and normal blood cells. Due to the difference in charges, cancer cells are attracted to an electrical frequency emanating from a plate in the device whereas blood cells are repulsed. Alternative capture techniques rely on antibodies attached to magnetic beads that bind to epithelial cellular adhesion molecules (EpCAM) on the cancer cells. These alternatives are limited to collecting cancer cells that express significant amounts of EpCAM, which is expressed in less than a third of all HCC tumors. Additionally, the tumor cells are fixed in the alternatives’ capture process and cannot be manipulated after they are collected.

In Poklepovic’s study, different types of liver cancer cells were collected from the same patient, suggesting differences within the tumor cells that were previously unknown. The device may have also captured cells that have undergone epithelial-mesenchymal transformation (EMT), which is a process thought to be induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy that increases the cells’ resistance to these treatments.

 “By analyzing the collected cells, we can monitor the patient’s response to treatment, view genetic changes within the cancer and obtain new insight into the diagnosis and evaluation of each patient’s unique disease,” says Poklepovic. “This technology opens the door to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of liver cancer.”

Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the world, and there is currently only one FDA approved drug – sorafenib – that has been shown to extend survival. Reliable CTC capture techniques could provide a non-invasive way to harvest liver cancer cells, potentially speeding up the development of new drugs.

VCU Massey Cancer Center is already using this technology to evaluate liver cancer cells’ response to a new treatment, combining sorafenib with another anti-cancer drug, vorinostat. There are also studies underway in prostate cancer.

Moving forward, Poklepovic plans to test the ApoCell device on additional samples and utilize genetic analyses to better understand the different types of cancer cells collected using this technique.

2 thoughts on “New technology could detect liver cancer from a simple blood sample

  1. Mary,
    Thank you for your comment. We are very sorry to hear about the loss of your sister. We sent a longer response to your comment via email.
    For others that may have similar questions, the device is not currently available as a screening tool. We do hope to open a screening study in the future, but it is too early to say when it will begin. Dr. Poklepovic continues to work with ApoCell and we will report on any additional studies.
    If anyone is interested in learning more about their familial cancer risk, we suggest reaching out to our Familial Cancer Clinic and speaking to one of our genetic counselors. You can learn more by visiting our Web site or calling the Clinic at (804) 628-1925. The link to our Web site is:

  2. Dr. Poklepovic,
    My sister, Barbara, died of liver cancer January 2010, no hepatitis and rarely drank alcohol. By the time she was diagnosed she was in stage 4 and given 2 months to live, she lived 22 months and it was a gift to her family. We are local and we participated in the Massey run to raise money for “Team Barb”. In any case, we took her to Masey/VCU and to many hospitals in the US and the physicians were all baffled because she was very atypical for liver cancer. The only thing they could come up with was potentially the mold on nuts may have caused her cancer, we lived in Turkey for a few years when we were all young. There are 3 surviving siblings and of course we are very interested in this new research and blood test to detect liver cancer. Is it on the market yet, if not when do you predict it may happen? All three of us would be very interested in having it done on a annual basis.
    Thankyou for your efforts to help diagnose this disease early on.

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