Quantitation of circulating tumor cells in blood samples from ovarian and prostate cancer patients using tumor-specific fluorescent ligands

Wei He, Sumith A. Kularatne, Kimberly R. Kalli, Franklyn G. Prendergast, Robert J. Amato, George G. Klee, Lynn C. Hartmann, Philip S. Low

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Quantitation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) can provide information on the stage of a malignancy, onset of disease progression and response to therapy. In an effort to more accurately quantitate CTCs, we have synthesized fluorescent conjugates of 2 high-affinity tumor-specific ligands (folate-AlexaFluor 488 and DUPA-FITC) that bind tumor cells >20-fold more efficiently than fluorescent antibodies. Here we determine whether these tumor-specific dyes can be exploited for quantitation of CTCs in peripheral blood samples from cancer patients. A CTC-enriched fraction was isolated from the peripheral blood of ovarian and prostate cancer patients by an optimized density gradient centrifugation protocol and labeled with the aforementioned fluorescent ligands. CTCs were then quantitated by flow cytometry. CTCs were detected in 18 of 20 ovarian cancer patients (mean 222 CTCs/ml; median 15 CTCs/ml; maximum 3,118 CTCs/ml), whereas CTC numbers in 16 gender-matched normal volunteers were negligible (mean 0.4 CTCs/ml; median 0.3 CTCs/ml; maximum 1.5 CTCs/ml; p < 0.001, χ2). CTCs were also detected in 10 of 13 prostate cancer patients (mean 26 CTCs/ml, median 14 CTCs/ml, maximum 94 CTCs/ml) but not in 18 gender-matched healthy donors (mean 0.8 CTCs/ml, median 1, maximum 3 CTC/ml; p < 0.0026, χ2). Tumor-specific fluorescent antibodies were much less efficient in quantitating CTCs because of their lower CTC labeling efficiency. Use of tumor-specific fluorescent ligands to label CTCs in peripheral blood can provide a simple, accurate and sensitive method for determining the number of cancer cells circulating in the bloodstream.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1968-1973
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2008


  • Circulating tumor cell
  • Fluorescent conjugates of tumor-specific ligands
  • Ovarian cancer diagnosis
  • Prostate cancer diagnosis
  • Quantitation of tumor burden

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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