The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the peripheral blood is associated with short survival, making the detection of CTCs clinically useful as a prognostic factor of disease outcome and/or a surrogate marker of treatment response. Recent technical advances in immunocytometric analysis and quantitative real-time PCR have made it possible to detect a few CTCs in the blood; however, there is no sensitive assay to specifically detect viable CTCs. Here, we report what we believe to be a new approach to visually detect live human CTCs among millions of peripheral blood leukocytes, using a telomerase-specific replication-selective adenovirus expressing GFP. First, we constructed a GFP-expressing attenuated adenovirus, in which the telomerase promoter regulates viral replication (OBP-401; TelomeScan). We then used OBP-401 to establish a simple ex vivo method that was able to detect viable human CTCs in the peripheral blood. The detection method involved a 3-step procedure, including the lysis of rbc, the subsequent addition of OBP-401 to the cell pellets, and an automated scan using fluorescence microscopy. OBP-401 infection increased the signal-to-background ratio as a tumor-specific probe, because the fluorescent signal was amplified only in viable, infected human tumor cells, by viral replication. This GFP-expressing virus-based method is remarkably simple and allows precise enumeration of CTCs.
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