Clinical Pathology

Clinical Validation of a Circulating Tumor Cell Assay Using Density Centrifugation and Automated Immunofluorescence Microscopy



The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–approved CELLSEARCH assay (Menarini Silicon Biosystems) for circulating tumor cells (CTCs) relies on expression of an epithelial cell adhesion molecule to enrich for CTCs. We sought to validate a CTC assay (RareCyte) for clinical use that instead collects a buffy coat preparation enriched for CTCs.


Normal peripheral blood specimens spiked with cultured breast and prostate cancer cells and 47 clinical samples were used to validate assay performance. Specimens were enriched for buffy coat cells and applied onto 8 glass slides. The slides were immunofluorescently stained and imaged by automated microscopy and computer-aided image analysis.


The assay was 100% specific for detecting spiked tumor cells. For samples spiked with 25, 50, and 125 cells, the percentage coefficients of variation were 42%, 21%, and 3.7%, respectively. Linearity studies demonstrated a slope of 0.99, an intercept of 1.6, and R2 of 0.96. Recoveries at the 25-, 50-, and 125-cell levels were 92%, 111%, and 100%, respectively. Clinical samples run on both CELLSEARCH and RareCyte correlated with an R2 of 0.8 after log-transformation and demonstrated 87.5% concordance using the CELLSEARCH criteria for predicting adverse outcomes.


The RareCyte CTC assay has comparable performance to the FDA-cleared method and is ready for further clinical validation studies.

This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (

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