Detection of circulating tumor cells remains a significant challenge due to their vast physical and biological heterogeneity. We developed a cell-surface-marker-independent technology based on telomerase-specific, replication-selective oncolytic herpes-simplex-virus-1 that targets telomerase-reverse-transcriptase-positive cancer cells and expresses green-fluorescent-protein that identifies viable CTCs from a broad spectrum of malignancies. Our method recovered 75.5-87.2% of tumor cells spiked into healthy donor blood, as validated by different methods, including single cell sequencing. CTCs were detected in 59-100% of 326 blood samples from patients with 6 different solid organ carcinomas and lymphomas. Significantly, CTC-positive rates increased remarkably with tumor progression from N0M0, N+M0 to M1 in each of 5 tested cancers (lung, colon, liver, gastric and pancreatic cancer, and glioma). Among 21 non-small cell lung cancer cases in which CTC values were consecutively monitored, 81% showed treatment-related decreases, which was also found after treatments in the other solid tumors. Moreover, monitoring CTC values provided an efficient treatment response indicator in hematological malignancies. Compared to CellSearch, our method detected significantly higher positive rates in 40 NSCLC in all stages, including N0M0, N+M0 and M1, and was less affected by chemotherapy. This simple, robust and clinically-applicable technology detects viable CTCs from solid and hematopoietic malignancies in early to late stages, and significantly improves clinical detection and treatment prognostication.
Keywords: clinical application; epithelial-marker-independent; telomerase-specific HSV; viable circulating tumor cells.