Detecting skin cancer with a blood test

A team of US researchers have found a way to diagnose skin cancer using blood tests.

The researchers have shown in a lab-based study that melanoma cells can be detected in blood and plasma. If the test makes it through clinical trials, the researchers hope that it could one day be used to sidestep the invasive biopsies that are currently required to diagnose melanoma.

The test uses melanoma-specific antibodies, and a device designed specifically to react them with blood. The device is called MelanoBean, and it works with microfluidics: manipulating tiny amounts of fluid to do interesting things that they don’t do in larger volumes.

The test is described in a paper in Advanced NanoBiomed Research.

“This is the first comprehensive study of circulating tumour cells – or CTCs – to evaluate the efficacy of surgery using microfluidic systems in melanoma, including changes in the number of CTCs, CTC cluster configuration, and gene expression profiling,” says first author Dr Yoon-Tae Kang, a researcher at the University of Michigan, US.

The researchers found that with their test, melanoma cells (CTCs) could be found in the blood of cancer patients at all stages of the disease – I through to IV.

It could also identify whether any CTCs were hanging around in the blood of patients who’d had skin cancer surgery to get their cells removed.

“CTCs have the potential to pinpoint treatment resistance and recurrence, and can be a valuable biomarker to non-invasively monitor for disease progression,” says corresponding author Dr Sunitha Nagrath also from the University of Michican.

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