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Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US have created a magnetic wire to capture free-floating tumour cells in the blood patients.

Expected to aid in early diagnosis, the wire is threaded into a vein to detect even scarce and hard-to-capture tumour cells.

The wire attracts unique magnetic nanoparticles that have been engineered with an antibody to bind to any tumour cells circulating in the bloodstream and pull them out.

“Compared to a 5ml blood sample, the wire was observed to have extracted 10-80 times more cancerous cells.”

The capability of the magnetised wire to capture more cells, compared to existing blood-based cancer-detection approaches, could aid in the early detection of cancer.

In addition, the new technique is expected to aid in the assessment of patient’s response to cancer therapy.

Stanford for Cancer Early Detection, Canary Center radiology chair and director Sanjiv Gambhir said: “It could be useful in any other disease in which there are cells or molecules of interest in the blood.

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“For example, let’s say you’re checking for a bacterial infection, circulating tumour DNA or rare cells that are responsible for inflammation – in any of these scenarios, the wire and nanoparticles help to enrich the signal, and therefore detect the disease or infection.”

The researchers investigated the magnetic wire in pigs. It was placed in a vein near the pig’s ear, which is similar to veins present in the human arm.

Compared to a 5ml blood sample, the wire was observed to have extracted 10-80 times more cancerous cells. It was also compared with a separate commercial wire-based detection approach and found to have captured 500 to 5,000 more tumour cells.

Currently, the team is working towards refining the technique for humans, including obtaining approval for the nanoparticles. They aim to develop the technology as a tool to improve detection, diagnosis, treatment and assessment of cancer therapy.