Quantitation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) constitutes an emerging tool for the diagnosis and staging of cancer, assessment of response to therapy, and evaluation of residual disease after surgery. Unfortunately, no existing technology has the sensitivity to measure the low numbers of tumor cells (< 1 CTC per ml of whole blood) that characterize minimal levels of disease. We present a method, intravital flow cytometry, that noninvasively counts rare CTCs in vivo as they flow through the peripheral vasculature. The method involves i.v. injection of a tumor-specific fluorescent ligand followed by multiphoton fluorescence imaging of superficial blood vessels to quantitate the flowing CTCs. Studies in mice with metastatic tumors demonstrate that CTCs can be quantitated weeks before metastatic disease is detected by other means. Analysis of whole blood samples from cancer patients further establishes that human CTCs can be selectively labeled and quantitated when present at approximate to 2 CTCs per ml, opening opportunities for earlier assessment of metastatic disease.
folate conjugates; in vivo imaging; multiphoton microscopy; metastasis; cancer diagnosis, FOLIC-ACID FORTIFICATION; METASTATIC BREAST-CANCER; FOLATE RECEPTOR; OVARIAN-CANCER; PERIPHERAL-BLOOD; BINDING; TISSUES; ENDOCYTOSIS; CARCINOMAS; MICROSCOPY
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