Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and over 55,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the UK. Early diagnosis is important for improved survival; when the disease is diagnosed in its earliest stage, 98 % of people will survive for five years or more compared to only 26 % when the breast cancer is diagnosed at the latest stage (Cancer Research UK).
Currently, mammography (X-ray of the breast tissue) is used to screen and detect breast cancers. However, sometimes this technique misses the smallest, earliest stage cancers. Researchers are now working to develop alternative, minimally invasive testing strategies, with increased sensitivity and specificity.
One approach being explored is the detection of circulating breast cancer cells in the blood. Circulating tumour cells are shed by tumours into the blood and can be detected in the early stages of breast cancer. However, because these cells are very rare in the blood, the methods to detect them are frequently complex, time-consuming and expensive.
Professor Jason Davis and Dr Mohamed Sharafeldin (Department of Chemistry) have received funding from a Cancer Research UK Early Detection and Diagnosis Primer Award to develop a new automated device to capture and quantify circulating tumour cells in a single step.
Our aim is to design a new all-in-one platform for detecting circulating tumour cells from a standard blood sample that is simple to use, cost-effective, quick, and importantly, highly sensitive, so that the earliest cancers can be identified. - Professor Jason Davis, lead researcher on the study.
Once developed, this new technology platform could also be applied to assess the response to treatment and to monitor patients for cancer recurrence after treatment.