Microfluidic Device Separates Circulating Tumor Cells From Sample of Whole Blood

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are difficult to isolate because, within a sample of a few hundred, the individual cells may present many characteristics. Some resemble skin cells while others resemble muscle cells; they can also vary in size.

To more quickly and efficiently isolate these rare cells for analysis, a team led by Professor Leidong Mao, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Georgia, designed a microfluidic chip that captures nearly every CTC in a sample of blood—more than 99%—considerably higher than most existing technologies.

The researchers call their method “integrated ferrohydrodynamic cell separation” (iFCS).

Melissa Davis, an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology at Weill Cornell Medicine and a collaborator on the project, said the new device could be “transformative” in the treatment of breast cancer. “Physicians can only treat what they can detect,” she said. “We often can’t detect certain subtypes of CTCs, but with the iFCS device we will capture all the subtypes of CTCs and even determine which subtypes are the most informative concerning relapse and disease progression.”

Davis believes the device may ultimately allow physicians to gauge a patient’s response to specific treatments much earlier than is currently possible.

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