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University of Houston researchers develop new method to detect tumors with blood sample

A new method to detect tumor cells could help save the lives of cancer patients with a simple blood sample.

HOUSTON — Researchers at the University of Houston have been hard at work developing a new method to detect tumor cells in the blood. The new method could help change and save the lives of cancer patients.

That’s what researchers at the University of Houston are hoping for and they’re going to begin clinical trials with MD Anderson soon.

Normally to detect a tumor you have to get imaging or a biopsy done. But with the new method, researchers said they can find rare tumor cells through a sample of your blood. It could be life-changing for those fighting cancer and even cancer survivors.

They say the tumor cells are very rare to find.

"You need a really sensitive method to detect it," said Dr. Shaun Zhang with The Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston.

What they did is created a probe based on virus-like particles that looks for circulating tumor cells for their specific detection.

"We designed it such that it will actively search for circulating tumor cells in the blood," Zhang said.

Not only does it spot the rare tumor cells, but most importantly, it can let them know if those cells are alive.

"Imagine that there may only be one circulating tumor cell among millions of blood cells. It's like a needle in a haystack," Zhang said.

The method could potentially change the lives of cancer patients going through treatment because doctors won't have to wait for the treatment to be completed to see if it was effective.

"We can tell the doctor within a few days ... 'OK, if it's not effective, stop the treatment and the patient won't suffer from side effects' and they go on to another treatment," Zhang said.

The method could even change the lives of surviving cancer patients. With a simple blood sample, doctors can detect any recurring tumor.

"Our method ... through annual checks once every half year, could collect blood and we search for live circulating tumor cells," Zhang said.

Researchers said they’ve been working on the method for two years. The University of Houston has also applied for a patent. Researchers hope to begin the commercialization of the new method.

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