Utilising Cancer Genetic Evolution for Early Detection and Monitoring of Breast Cancer

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Mi-CARE: A Microchip-Based Diagnostic Companion for Early Detection and Therapeutic Monitoring of Breast Cancer

A CRUK Multidisciplinary Award has been awarded to a team led by Professor Chris Toumazou and Dr Melpomeni Kalofonou of the Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Imperial College London to develop a microchip-based ‘liquid-biopsy’ test for detection and monitoring of breast cancer recurrence

Co-funded by Cancer Research UK and EPSRC, the award scheme supports collaborations between cancer researchers and scientists from Engineering and Medicine. The awarded multidisciplinary team includes cancer research specialists, Professor Charles Coombes and Professor Simak Ali, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Faculty of Medicine, and Professor Jacqui Shaw, University of Leicester, Department of Cancer Studies.

Monitoring Breast Cancer

In the UK, the majority of patients with breast cancer has no evidence of secondary tumours at the time of diagnosis. Although the primary cancer can be removed with surgery, in many patients, cancer cells can seed in the body's circulation forming micrometastases, which can grow and spread if left unchecked, making early detection vitally important. 

Current detection approaches require an invasive tissue biopsy, rely on access to highly specialised equipment, are very expensive for routine use, and cannot distinguish between active, progressive and minimal residual disease. 

Research by Professor Coombes and Shaw, has shown that tumour-specific mutations in circulating-free DNA found in blood plasma can be used as biomarkers for detection and monitoring of micrometastasic breast cancer, increasing the chances for the right treatment to be offered to patients.

Microchip Based Approach

On the basis of the clinical research, the multidisciplinary team is developing an easy-to-use microchip-based platform for fast detection of tumour specific mutations in cfDNA for detection of breast cancer recurrence, allowing for more precise monitoring of the disease, while offering the capability for treatment to be tailored to patients’ needs. This is an essential stage of our long-term vision to create a lab-free, portable and cost-effective Lab-on-Chip system to enable routine monitoring of breast cancer patients on follow-up, through the use of blood-based genetic tests (Mi-CARE).

The sample-to-result 'Lab-on-Chip' system aims to predict the risk of breast cancer relapse and, repeated over the course of treatment, monitor disease progression and drug response, allowing treatment to be tailored to the individual patient, when the disease is in a minimal state and potentially curable.