In prostate cancer, about 90 000 European men die each year from metastatic disease, highlighting the unmet need for new tools and therapies. Blood-based testing offers unique opportunities for low invasive diagnosis, real-time patient monitoring and treatment selection. Still, circulating tumour cell (CTC) analysis has been hampered by their scarcity and heterogeneity. Giant cancer-associated macrophage-like cells (CAMLs) have recently been reported to also circulate in the blood of CaP patients, and interact with CTCs, hinting at a role for CAMLs in cancer cell dissemination. However, their true biological function and prognostic value remain largely undetermined.
In this context, the InNPeC project is focused on the development of innovative nanotechnology-based tools for a better characterization of prostate cancer, improved screening and personalized clinical reasoning, using rare cancer-associated cells from blood as biomarkers. This includes the design, fabrication and testing of microfluidic systems and sensing platforms, for automated real-time enumeration of cancer-associated cells, as well as to elucidate immune cell-cancer cell crosstalk, possibly as a new therapeutic target.
Researchers from INL – International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory and INESC-MN – Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers – Microsystems and Nanotechnologies have developed two different devices, which can be used separately or as a two-stage system, to isolate these rare blood cells (more specifically circulating tumour cells or CTCs, and cancer-associated macrophage-like cells or CAMLs). These rare cells can be used as biomarkers to diagnose prostate cancer or to provide feedback on how a patient is responding to a specific treatment.