Existing preclinical methods for acquiring dissemination kinetics of rare circulating tumor cells (CTCs) en route to forming metastases have not been capable of providing a direct measure of CTC intravasation rate and subsequent half-life in the circulation. Here, we demonstrate an approach for measuring endogenous CTC kinetics by continuously exchanging CTC-containing blood over several hours between un-anesthetized, tumor-bearing mice and healthy, tumor-free counterparts. By tracking CTC transfer rates, we extrapolated half-life times in the circulation of between 40 and 260 s and intravasation rates between 60 and 107,000 CTCs/hour in mouse models of small-cell lung cancer (SCLC), pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Additionally, direct transfer of only 1−2% of daily-shed CTCs using our blood-exchange technique from late-stage, SCLC-bearing mice generated macrometastases in healthy recipient mice. We envision that our technique will help further elucidate the role of CTCs and the rate-limiting steps in metastasis.
Measuring kinetics and metastatic propensity of CTCs by blood exchange between mice