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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

A Great New Science Tool to Save Lives, Time and Money

(Credit – Image Courtesy of University of California – Los Angeles)

ScienceDaily brings news of a multi-disciplinary team developing yet another great new tool for scientists. It’s a camera. A sensitive camera that captures images of cells. It’s also a really fast camera. It’s so fast it can accurately capture images of 100,000 cells per second. How fast is that? That’s about 100X the best cellular camera in use today.

The numbers are impressive, but what’s the real world application and translation into science? One example is to use the camera to screen blood samples to look for cancer cells. That use can be put to work as part of making decisions about ending radiation or chemotherapy or other treatments when cancer cells are no longer found. And, of course, the camera screening could be used in to look for cancer cells before a tumor becomes clinically apparent. Tools like this ultimately can be used to avoid vast amounts of misery, and to save vast amounts of money through better decision making when cancer has manifested, and through cancer prevention.

That’s the big picture. Set out below are further specifics from the summary from ScienceDaily:

ScienceDaily (July 6, 2012) — The ability to distinguish and isolate rare cells from among a large population of assorted cells has become increasingly important for the early detection of disease and for monitoring disease treatments. Circulating cancer tumor cells are a perfect example. Typically, there are only a handful of them among a billion healthy cells, yet they are precursors to metastasis, the spread of cancer that causes about 90 percent of cancer mortalities. Such "rogue" cells are not limited to cancer — they also include stem cells used for regenerative medicine and other cell types.

Unfortunately, detecting such cells is difficult. Achieving good statistical accuracy requires an automated, high-throughput instrument that can examine millions of cells in a reasonably short time. Microscopes equipped with digital cameras are currently the gold standard for analyzing cells, but they are too slow to be useful for this application. Now, a new optical microscope developed by UCLA engineers could make the tough task a whole lot easier… The new blood-screening technology boasts a throughput of 100,000 cells per second, approximately 100 times higher than conventional imaging-based blood analyzers.

Their research demonstrates real-time identification of rare breast cancer cells in blood with a record low false-positive rate of one cell in a million. Preliminary results indicate that this new technology has the potential to quickly enable the detection of rare circulating tumor cells from a large volume of blood, opening the way for statistically accurate early detection of cancer and for monitoring the efficiency of drug and radiation therapy. (underlining added)

Note also that this result arises from inter-disciplinary work:

"This achievement required the integration of several cutting-edge technologies through collaborations between the departments of bioengineering and electrical engineering and the California NanoSystems Institute and adds to the significant technology infrastructure being developed at UCLA for cell-based diagnostics," Di Carlo said. The expertise included an interdisciplinary team "with expertise in optics and high-speed electronics, microfluidics, and biotechnology."

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