Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that have broken away from a primary tumor and entered the circulatory system. They can initiate new tumors (metastases) that are the driving factor for the vast majority of cancer-related deaths. Biopharma researchers, cancer researchers and oncologists have focused on the detection and analyses of CTCs to monitor drug responses and determine appropriate treatments.
What is your mission at Epic Sciences?
Epic Sciences’ mission is to extend patient lives by delivering the clarity to guide treatment decisions based on circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in a blood sample. Each cancer patient faces a lack of certainty and fear about cancer treatment. No treatment works the same for every person, even those with the same type of cancer. Often patients do not respond to treatment or continue to receive treatment long after it stops working.
The Epic Sciences platform was invented to transform care for cancer patients by identifying and analyzing circulating tumor cells in the peripheral blood of patients to diagnose the disease, prognose the long-range outcome and predict the response to therapeutic interventions.
Instead of making any assumptions about rare cancer cells, we innovated our imaging platform to capture images of all the cells in a blood sample without bias and to identify rare cancer cells by machine learning models combining protein expression and morphological features derived from patient data collected over a decade.
Our solution to this problem has its very foundation in high quality, high resolution, high speed and highly reproducible fluorescent imaging. Each cancer cell is typically hiding in a sea of millions of normal cells as they travel through the body. We developed an approach to find these heterogeneous, rare cancer cells in the background of millions of normal immune cells in a blood sample. We innovated our image acquisition and data analytics to solve the most important ‘Where’s Waldo’ puzzle.
How do you use microscopy?
When patient samples are received, the red blood cells are lysed, and the sample is centrifuged to isolate the white blood cell pellet. Then the white blood cell fraction is deposited onto glass microscope slides. Following this is staining of the cells using antibodies tagged with fluorescent dyes; this helps us visualize the morphology and biomarker expression on each type of cell.
After the immunofluorescent antibody staining for each batch of slides has been completed, the slides are prepared for automated slide scanning using ZEISS Axioscan, which can automatically scan 100 slides in a single run. Each slide is completely scanned, top to bottom, in all colors, in approximately 20 minutes and automatically uploaded to our cloud for processing for analysis.