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A One-Stop Shop for Cancer Detection

Researchers at On-Q-ity, a diagnostic company, have developed a new device intended to save lives by better detecting cancer. The device, presented at an American Association for Cancer Research conference today in Denver, has a clunky name, the Circulating Cancer Capture and Characterization Chip (C5 for short).

When cancer grows, it often sends cells through the bloodstream, which can lead to metastasis. These circulating cancer cells are difficult to detect, however, because they are greatly outnumbered by healthy blood cells. On-Q-ity's chip uses two methods to detect cancer cells in a blood sample. The chip has thousands of tiny posts that become narrower and narrower as blood passes from one end to the other, and some cancer cells — much larger than blood cells — get caught in the process. The chip also uses a process called antibody affinity, which snags cancer cells by matching their chemical signature.

On-Q-ity didn't invent either of these methods. But it claims to have improved upon them and, more importantly, to have combined them onto a single device, improving diagnostic efficiency. "You want to find as many of these cells as possible when you run a blood sample," says On-Q-ity's chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Palmer. "What the paper shows is that utilizing both capture methodologies is better than using either one alone." On-Q-ity has patents on the device.

Though the C5 has yet to be independently evaluated, On-Q-ity's hope is that it can soon start helping doctors make better and faster decisions, greatly improving the prognosis for patients.