UCLA researchers develop mechanism for characterizing function of rare tumor cells

Scientists have long known that circulating tumor cells, rare cancer cells that are released into the bloodstream, have the potential to provide vital information about a person’s specific cancer. But until now, they have been unable to reliably access information on how these cells behave. UCLA researchers have created a quick and effective mechanism to measure how these cells perform functions that drive the disease, such as producing proteins that degrade tissue.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, expands on the potential of a liquid biopsy and how the noninvasive test, using a small volume of blood, could allow scientists to understand how tumor cells act, rather than just what they are made from.

“Liquid biopsies aren’t new, but what’s new here is that we’re getting insight into the function of the circulating tumor cell,” said Dr. Matthew Rettig, a professor of medicine and urology and a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, who was one of the paper’s authors. “If we can describe the motion and activity of a patient’s tumor, we can get a handle on how aggressive it is, how it may evolve and metastasize, and ultimately, what


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