Chip detects lung cancer treatment efficacy from blood draw

Circulating tumor cells predict progression in stage III NSCLC patients.


A chip analyzes blood to track cancer cells, helping doctors assess treatment effectiveness by the fourth week. According to a University of Michigan study, this allows personalized adjustments for better outcomes.

Shruti Jolly, professor of radiation oncology, associate chair of community practices at U-M, and co-corresponding author of the study, said, “Currently, there’s typically a wait of weeks to months before we can fully assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment.”

“However, with this chip, we may be able to sidestep prolonged, ineffective therapy and quickly pivot to alternatives, thus saving patients from needless side effects. This technique can potentially shift cancer diagnostics, moving from a delayed single assessment to more continuous surveillance and facilitating the delivery of personalized cancer treatment.” She added.

Clinicians rely on CT scans for tumor changes, but slight shifts go unnoticed. Tumor biopsies offer precise details, yet their infrequency hinders regular updates. Liquid biopsies, searching for cancer signs in blood, provide more frequent sampling.

Detail of a chip developed by the Nagrath Lab in Building 18 of the North Campus Research Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Thursday, January 25, 2024. The chip the Nagrath Lab developed traps and concentrates tiny numbers of cancer cells from blood samples in order to identify whether a cancer treatment is working. Using this chip doctors can monitor the amount of cancer cells in a patient’s blood. This kind of data could allow clinicians to adapt cancer treatments to patients’ needs and improve treatment outcomes. Jolly was instrumental in allowing Nagrath and team access to clinical samples for them to test and in arranging the clinical experiment. Photo: Brenda Ahearn/University of Michigan, College of Engineering, Communications and Brenda Ahearn, Michigan Engineering.

A “corona wand” seals GO chips, creating a tight bond preventing fluid escape. Despite blood’s frequent availability, existing tools struggle in lung cancer monitoring due to targeting less common surface proteins. Researchers are exploring innovative approaches for adequate liquid biopsies in lung cancer treatment.

“We sought more precise cancer markers to monitor treatments closely,” said Professor Sunitha Nagrath, a study co-author. The research, led by Professors Shruti Jolly and Nagrath, introduces a chip designed to capture cancer cells. The goal is to identify treatment effectiveness early, benefiting patients by avoiding costly and potentially harmful therapies that might not be effective for everyone.

The “GO chip,” created in 2013, is exceptional in precisely capturing cancer cells. It uses graphene oxide sheets with antibodies to recognize cancer-specific markers on cell surfaces. Cancer cells are trapped as blood flows through the chip, allowing researchers to count and confirm their cancerous nature.

The chip’s ability to analyze the cells’ biochemistry helps understand variations between patients and treatment stages. In a recent test, the GO chip monitored lung cancer treatments, collecting cells from 26 chemotherapy and immunotherapy patients at different treatment weeks.

Their study found that if cancer cells in a patient’s blood don’t decrease by at least 75% after four weeks of treatment, the cancer is more likely to persist. Cells from non-responsive patients showed activated genes, potential targets for future therapies.

The study utilizing the innovative “GO chip” reveals that monitoring lung cancer treatment efficacy is possible through a simple blood draw. If cancer cells don’t decrease by 75% after four weeks, the likelihood of treatment persistence increases.

Additionally, activated genes in non-responsive cases present potential targets for future therapies. This groundbreaking approach offers a promising avenue for efficiently assessing lung cancer treatment outcomes.

Journal reference:

  1. Emma Purcell, Zeqi Niu, et al., Circulating tumor cells reveal early predictors of disease progression in patients with stage III NSCLC undergoing chemoradiation and immunotherapy. Cell Reports. DOI:10.1016/j.celrep.2024.113687.


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