Product Liability

New blood test could revolutionize cancer screening

Most of the news in 2010 about Johnson & Johnson has been humiliating – millions of over-the-counter medicines recalled because of filthy manufacturing practices or smelly medicines, not to mention the recall of nearly 100,000 artificial hip devices because of defective parts. But the start of 2011 sheds a little positive light on the pharmaceutical giant. J&J has announced they have teamed up with researchers to create a blood test that can distinguish a single cancer cell among billions of healthy ones. The test could one day be used as an early diagnostic tool for cancer and could replace uncomfortable procedures such as colonoscopies and mammograms.

Called the “liquid biopsy,” the blood test is being developed under a $15 million grant by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Massachusetts General.

Initially, the test will be used to try to predict which treatments work best for each patient and to quickly find out if a treatment is working. It could also eliminate the need for painful tissue samples and body scans for monitoring. Researchers say they hope the test provides an alternative to screenings for a variety of cancers including those involving the colon and breast.

While the news is encouraging, it must still go through a series of clinical trials. It would likely be years before the test is available for doctors to use as a diagnostic tool.