USC Stem Cell researcher targets the “seeds” of breast cancer metastasis

Circulating tumor cells from the blood of a breast cancer patient (Image by Maria C. Donaldson and Min Yu)

Circulating tumor cells from the blood of a breast cancer patient (Image by Maria C. Donaldson and Min Yu)

For breast cancer patients, the era of personalized medicine may be just around the corner, thanks to recent advances by USC Stem Cell researcher Min Yu and scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

In a July 11 study in Science, Yu and her colleagues report how they isolated breast cancer cells circulating through the blood streams of six patients. Some of these deadly cancer cells are the “seeds” of metastasis, which travel to and establish secondary tumors in vital organs such as the bone, lungs, liver and brain.

Yu and her colleagues managed to expand this small number of cancer cells in the laboratory over a period of more than six months, enabling the identification of new mutations and the evaluation of drug susceptibility.

If perfected, this technique could eventually allow doctors to do the same: use cancer cells isolated from patients’ blood to monitor the progression of their diseases, pre-test drugs and personalize treatment plans accordingly.

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