New assay test shows positive results for patients with recurrent or metastatic breast cancer

When breast cancer advances, the patient doesn't have the luxury of time. Finding the right type of chemotherapy as quickly as possible is a critical factor for the patient's success and, until now, predicting the patient's sensitivity to chemotherapy has often been a shot in the dark.

“DiaTech is the only commercial pathology reference laboratory in the U.S. that works exclusively with live cancer cells and the only one that has the expertise and technology to measure drug sensitivity of specific cancer cells”

DiaTech Oncology, a privately-held life sciences and clinical pathology laboratory company in Nashville, Tenn., has developed a predictive assay test that shows significantly positive results for chemotherapy patients with recurrent or metastatic breast cancer. The Microculture Kinetic Assay, also called the MiCK® assay or Correct Chemo™, was used in a non-blinded, multi-institutional controlled trial with breast cancer patients. When the assay was used by participating physicians, patients showed higher response rates and longer times to relapse.

Detailed results of the trial were presented in an abstract on Dec. 6 at the 2012 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The event, which attracts over 8,000 participants from more than 90 countries, is among the largest and most prestigious breast cancer conferences in the world.

DiaTech's patented MiCK assay measures apoptosis, or cell death, in the cancer cells of chemotherapy patients. Tumor cells are exposed to multiple doses of several chemotherapeutic drugs, either as single drugs or combinations. An algorithm monitors and computes the amount of cell death and determines a drug sensitivity "score" of the patients' tumor cells.

The assay also has recently been found to correlate with positive outcomes in patients with acute myelocytic leukemia and ovarian cancer.

Details of the abstract presented at the 2012 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium include:

  • When physicians participating in the trial used the MiCK assay, there was an increase in complete or partial response rates, longer time to relapse and a trend to longer survival times.
  • The MiCK assay was used by physicians to help develop the treatment plan (after the assay) in 73.3% of patients.
  • Physicians using the assay changed their treatment plans 68% of the time.
  • Physicians using the assay utilized the best therapy in the assay in 73% of patients.
  • When the MiCK assay was used, 81% had disease control compared to 25% of patients in whom the assay was not used.
  • There was a trend toward improved survival if patients used the MiCK assay - 16.8 months compared to 13.1 months for patients who did not use the assay.
  • The median time-to-recurrence if the MiCK assay was used was 7.4 months, compared to only 2.2 months if the physician did not use the assay.
  • There were no rules or directions regarding how physicians were to use the assay result because DiaTech researchers felt it would produce a more valid test of how the assay would be used in actual practice, where the oncologist has complete discretion in treatment planning.

Dr. Cary Presant, chief medical officer of DiaTech and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, said the MiCK assay is an important step in the rapidly-growing field of personalized medicine.

"DiaTech is the only commercial pathology reference laboratory in the U.S. that works exclusively with live cancer cells and the only one that has the expertise and technology to measure drug sensitivity of specific cancer cells," Presant said. "The result of our testing with breast cancer patients shows that the MiCK assay can guide use of the best therapy in individual patients, leading to improved outcomes and even potentially lower costs. It gives the oncologist the freedom to prescribe the most effective chemotherapy for the individual patient, based on the patient's own particular tumor cells."


DiaTech Oncology is


  1. Gregory Pawelski Gregory Pawelski United States says:

    What is missing in the article is that DiaTech is NOT the only one on the market that can tell an oncologist the most effective chemotherapy treatment for the patient.

    They have also claimed that they are the only commercial pathology reference laboratory in the U.S. that works exclusively with "live" cancer cells and the only one that has the expertise and technology to measure drug sensitivity of specific cancer cells.

    Perhaps they are making this misleading claim because they are licensed as a pathology laboratory, while other laboratories have been pigeonholed as immunology laboratories by the FDA.

    DiaTech Oncology uses the MiCK assay which is their "brand name" for a caspases assay (caspase-3-mediated apoptosis). It correlates precisely with the findings in the DISC, MTT and ATP assays.

    Following the description of apoptosis in the British Journal of Cancer in 1972, scientists around the world incorporated the concept of programmed cell death into their cancer research. What is less understood is the fact that apoptosis is not synonymous with programmed cell death.

    Programmed cell death is a fundamental feature of multicellular organism biology. Mutated cells incapable of performing their normal functions self-destruct in service of the multicellular organism as a whole.

    While apoptosis represents an important mechanism of programmed cell death, it is only one of several cell death pathways.

    Apoptotic cell death occurs with certain mutational events, DNA damage, oxidative stress and withdrawal of some growth factors particularly within the immune system.

    Non-apoptotic programmed cell death includes: programmed necrosis, para-apoptosis, autophagic cell death, nutrient withdrawal, and subtypes associated with mis-folded protein response, and PARP mediated cell death.

    While apoptotic cell death follows a recognized cascade of caspase-3- mediated enzymatic events, non-apoptotic cell death occurs in the absence of caspase activation.

    With the recognition of programmed cell death as a principal factor in carcinogenesis and cancer response to therapy, there has been a growing belief that the measurement of apoptosis alone will provide the insights needed in cancer biology. This oversimplification underestimates the complexity of cell biology and suggests that cancer cells have but one mechanisms of response to injury.

    It has previously been shown that cancer cells that suffer lethal injury and initiate the process of apoptosis can be treated with caspase inhibitors to prevent caspase-3-mediated apoptosis. Of interest, these cells are not rescued from death. Instead, these cells committed to death, undergo a form of non-apoptotic programmed cell death more consistent with necrosis. Thus, commitment to death overrides mechanism of death.

    Labs that focus on measurements of caspase activation can "only" measure apoptotic cell death. While apoptotic cell death is of importance in hematologic cancers and some solid tumors, it does not represent the mechanism of cell death in all tumors.

    While caspase activation is of interest, comparably easy to measure and useful in many leukemias and lymphomas, it does not represent cancer cell death in all circumstances and can be an unreliable parameter in many solid tumors.

    Laboratories that measure only one mechanism of cell death (e.g. caspase activation as a measure of apoptosis) miss important cell responses that are critical to the accurate prediction of clinical response.

    Also noted, the use of a (MiCK) caspase-3 activity test for the assessment of ex-vivo chemosensitivity do not correlate with sensitivity or resistance to commonly employed anticancer drugs in AML patients (BMC Cancer 2005, 5:60 doi:10.1186/1471-2407-5-60). Established tests like the DISC assay or the MTT assay are still the best choice for predicting chemosensitivities of cancer cells.

    In regards to caspase-3 activity testing for solid tumors such as colorectal carcinoma, bladder carcinoma, neuroblastoma, breast and lung adenocarcinoma, no studies have been published. Clinical studies to establish correlation between the (MiCK) caspase-3 assay results and treatment outcome in patients with solid tumors are still under way.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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