Million Dollar Blood From a Goat Helps Develop CTC-iChip Cancer Detection and Monitoring

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Million Dollar Blood From a Goat Helps Develop CTC-iChip Cancer Detection and Monitoring


Scientists have long yearned for better ways to detect cancer in people and better ways to monitor progress of cancer patients.

A medical team has developed a device, called the CTC-iChip, a rectangular silver item that is two inches long and an inch wide, that may just be the answer.

It must be said however that the success of the CTC-iChip could not have been achieved without the help of a special ?Million Dollar Goat?.

But before we get to the goat, let me explain what this chip is all about.

This chip has a silicon surface that is capable of threading blood around microscopic ?posts? to detect cancer cells.

The device was originally designed to trap fetal cells, but its creators, Mehmet Toner, a biomedical engineer, and Ravi Kapur, a biotech entrepreneur, decided, in 2004, to develop it to detect other ?floating’ cells like cancer or what is known in biology as CTCs or circulating tumor cells.

When cancer cells or live tumor cells are out of their original host, they become ?vicious? and attach themselves to other tissue that they come in contact with. This is called metastasis or what we commonly know as cancer spreading inside the bodies of patients. Metastasis reportedly “kills” 9 out of 10 people afflicted with cancer.

Toner’s team needed to coat their chip device with specific antibodies that would target cancer cells. An antibody is produced by the immune system of a living organism that recognizes proteins on the surface of a cell called an antigen. When an antibody and an antigen meet, they lock into each other and let the rest of the blood that is analyzed flow.

Antibodies however, cannot be cooked up in a laboratory. They are created with the use of living animals. Animals like rabbits, mice, sheep, donkeys, pigs and yes, goats, are injected with proteins from antigens that will induce the immune system in the animals to create the particular antibody. The animals are then bled (and kept alive) and their blood is used in the research done by people like Toner and Kapur.

Now this is where the goat comes in.

A scientist with Toner’s team named Sunitha Nagrath found the right antibody produced by a company called R&D Systems with catalog number BAF960. This antibody’s performance exceeded their expectations. Not only did it find the right tumor cells but it stuck to it like glue, attaching it to the ?posts? of the chip. This antibody came from a goat.

Everyone in the lab was rejoicing with the results since hundreds of live tumor cells were ?captured? from just a tube of blood.

The team of Toner then partnered with the MGH Cancer Center, headed by Daniel Harper, to conduct more tests, and soon, their method became very popular in the medical community. Their ?findings? soon found itself in various medical publications. In the succeeding years, various teams adapted their method of locating ?floating cancer cells? and the concept was ?booming?.

However, their success encountered a problem.

Further tests done sometime in 2008 showed that the method was trapping other types of cells aside from cancer cells. Since the method and technology were being further developed, they immediately suspected that changes in the methodology were the cause. They could not, however pinpoint the culprit until months later, when they looked at the ?goat? antibody itself.

Nagrath discovered that the antibody they were currently using had the same catalog number, but with a different batch code.

In short, the blood and antibody came from a different goat.

What the team neglected was the fact that antibodies are not just different from species to species ( such as pigs versus goats) bust also from animal to animal.

The important thing that they realized was that the specific antibody came from just a single goat. They, of course, tried to get hold of R&D Systems and told them about it. They needed the specific blood from this ?special? goat.

Guess what?

The goat died. From natural causes.

Imagine the shock that Toner’s team got when they were told about this.

The best that they could do was to purchase all the remaining stock of antibodies from this particular goat.

R&D Systems could have sold each vial for a million dollars, but Kapur was able to negotiate with them a bulk order for all remaining vials for ?just? below US$ 500,000 dollars.

To this day, Toner and Kapur’s lab manager keep those vials under heavy security.

Fortunately, Toner’s team was able to further develop the CTC-iChip with new technology involving filters, magnets, Blu-ray etching, and other devices that enable them to trap floating cancer cells using mass produced antibodies. They have finally broken free from being dependent on the ?million dollar goat’s blood?.

This chip can now evaluate 10 million cells per second and can analyze a tube of blood in one hour. Toner’s team has partnered with Johnson & Johnson, a leading medical company to bring the chip to market. They are also planning to offer the chip to cancer researchers this year, in order to receive feedback and further improve their device and system.

When Toner and Nagrath was asked if the device would have reached this stage without the goat’s blood, they replied that all the success emanated from the original work done in Toner’s lab, including the process with the goat’s antibody. Toner adds that ? We lucked out…..We lucked out because of a goat.?

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