Microfluidic Device Separates Circulating Tumor Cells by Size to Help Spot Cancer

Tumors tend to shed cells that travel down the bloodstream, spreading the disease wherever they end up landing. Though these circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are the reason that cancers metastasize to distant places in the body, they’re also a great biomarker for spotting the existence of tumors. The extreme rarity of CTCs, though, makes detecting these cells, a process called liquid biopsy, extremely difficult.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Queensland University of Technology of Australia have collaborated to create a microfluidic device that can separate the cells found in whole blood by their size, and in the process help identify the presence of CTCs.

Existing technologies for spotting CTCs can be prohibitively expensive, but the new device is cheap to produce and since molecular tags are not used there’s no need for a lab tech to prepare the sample. It works on the principles of inertial migration and shear-induced diffusion, forcing cells of different size to move towards different locations within the liquid as it moves through the device.

In a laboratory experiment, the researchers added 10 small-cell-lung cancer cells 5 millimeter samples of normal blood. After running these samples through the device, the researchers were able to pull out 93% of the cancer cells that they originally added to the samples, which is quite a bit better than many of the existing CTC systems.

Study in journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering: Isolation of circulating tumor cells in non-small-cell-lung-cancer patients using a multi-flow microfluidic channel…

Via: University of Illinois…