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HEALTHCARE | Staff Reporter, Singapore

A*STAR develops new liquid biopsy method to improve colorectal cancer care

It’s another step towards personalized medicine.

Choosing the right cancer treatment may soon be easier with a new liquid biopsy method developed by researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR.

According to a media release, this technology could improve the care of colorectal cancer patients to realize the promise of personalized medicine.

Doctors currently use genetic testing on tissue to determine the treatment and survival outcome of colorectal cancer patients. The standard approach is to test biopsies or resected tissue for genetic mutations (genotyping). This involves the initial removal of a piece of tissue from the affected part of the patient’s body. More tissue samples would need to be removed if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Tissue biopsy is a surgical procedure, which may be associated with pain and discomfort.

IBN’s liquid biopsy, in contrast, offers an alternative, less invasive method to analyze cancer cells through blood testing. This invention comprises two families of patented technologies: microsieve to capture circulating tumor cells and non-invasive genetic test for colorectal cancer treatment.

According to A*STAR, IBN has fabricated a silicon microsieve to rapidly capture the circulating tumor cells from blood. Measuring 7.5 mm in diameter and with pores finer than a strand of hair, the microsieve utilizes a densely packed array of 90,000 pores to separate tumor cells from a blood sample within five minutes. Cancer cells are generally larger and stiffer, so the microsieve has been designed to trap the cancer cells, while allowing normal blood cells to pass through it. IBN’s microsieve can be used for rapid detection and analysis of circulating tumor cells, and cancer metastasis research.

IBN has developed ultrasensitive molecular assays to identify matching gene mutations using the captured circulating tumor cells from the microsieve. The assays were tested on 44 colorectal cancer patients who underwent surgery at Fortis Surgical Hospital, and the results revealed that the liquid biopsy was highly accurate in detecting KRAS and BRAF mutations in blood. Recently published in the journal Molecular Oncology, this finding represents a major milestone of the Fortis-IBN TissueBank, which was established by IBN and Fortis Surgical Hospital in July 2012 to advance translational research in colorectal care.

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