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Although many Kiwis are cured by their initial drug treatment for breast cancer, we don’t know for sure it’s worked. Doctors must balance the need not to give too many drugs against the need to kill off all the cancer cells. Patients worry their cancer will come back.
Researchers have been struggling to figure out how best to detect remaining cancer cells in patients’ bodies. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) – tiny packages released by all cells – travel in our blood. We can identify where they come from, including from a tumour.
Scientists believe there’s potential to track the number of breast cancer-specific EVs in blood samples to determine if more treatment is needed, or that the cancer has returned. But because healthy EVs vastly outnumber the cancer cells, Dr Colin Hisey and Dr Cherie Blenkiron from University of Auckland are working on a new device that will catch the cancer EVs, while releasing the healthy EVs. This method of isolating cancer EVs could be a low cost and non-invasive tool to improve breast cancer patients’ treatment and recurrence monitoring.