Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Device Finds Stray Cancer Cells in Patients’ Blood

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Bookmark and Share
A microfluidic device that captures circulating tumor cells could give doctors a noninvasive way to diagnose and track cancers.

Doctors typically diagnose cancer via a biopsy, which can be invasive and expensive. A better way to diagnose the disease would be to detect telltale tumor cells floating in the bloodstream, but such a test has proved difficult to develop because stray cancer cells are rare, and it’s difficult to separate them from the mélange of cells in circulation.

Now researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School say they’ve built a microfluidic device that can quickly grab nearly any type of tumor cell, an advance that may one day lead to simple blood tests for detecting or tracking cancer.

Similar, existing devices—including earlier versions developed by the authors of the study in Wednesday’s online issue of Science Translational Medicine—depend on tumor-specific biomarkers on the surface of the cells to pull them out of a blood sample, meaning that a given device won’t work for all cancer types. What’s more, the efficiency by which the tumor cells are purified from other cell types is generally low and time-consuming. In a given blood sample, circulating tumor cells are rare—there may be only one tumor cell for every billion cells.

The new device is a “substantial step forward from previous microfluidic devices,” says Peter Kuhn, a circulating-tumor-cell researcher at the Scripps Research Institute. Kuhn was not involved in the study. The device combines existing microfluidic techniques of cell sorting into a single device, he says. The result is that the tumor cells can be pulled out of a blood sample quicker, and without prior knowledge of their molecular characteristics.

Mehmet Toner, director of the BioMicroElectroMechanical Systems Resource Center at MGH, and colleagues report that their latest chip can isolate circulating-tumor cells in the blood, and could apply to all types of cancer. “For our earlier chip, you needed to know something on the surface of the tumor cells,” says Toner. In those devices, a small sample of blood would flow through microfluidic chambers, some of which contained an antibody that grabbed tumor cells. That system also took four to five hours to process a single blood sample. “But for early detection and to make this useful for virtually all cancers, we needed to increase the throughput and to make it [tumor-type] independent,” he says.

Identifying these wandering tumor cells could also help researchers study a cancer’s progression and help doctors track treatments or screen for new cases. By studying the surface proteins or genetic profiles of the cancer cells, doctors and researchers could learn which mutations are present in the cancer and perhaps tailor molecularly targeted treatments accordingly. The authors show that 15 tumor cells were recovered from a blood sample from a prostate cancer patient. The gene expression levels of each cell were studied individually and a mix of mutations was found.

The device developed by Toner’s group combines magnetic labeling of cells and microfluidic sorting to process a sample of blood in about an hour or two. To capture tumor cells regardless of their cancer type, the system first tags white blood cells with magnetic beads that are covered with antibodies that recognize proteins on the surface of the immune cells. The sample is then passed into microfluidic chambers that clear out red blood cells, plasma, and unused free magnetic beads based on their size. Then the device discards the tagged white blood cells using a magnetic field. “In the past, we were focused on tumor cells that we know very little about,” says Toner. “Here, we throw away the cells we know everything about, the blood cells,” he says.

The advantage of the new cell-sorting device over previous attempts is that it successfully brings together multiple technologies, such as size separation and magnetic-tag separation, already used in the field, says Gajus Worthington, president and CEO of Fluidigm, a California company that produces microfluidic devices for biomedical research. “The key thing here is the integration, which is crucial to anything related to single-cell work,” he says. All the steps in Toner’s device take place in similar volumes. “If you have to go from one microstep back to macrostep back to microstep, there are losses and complexity, which leads to noise,” says Worthington.

Toner notes that the Holy Grail for circulating-tumor-cell technology would be to diagnose patients early. “About 10 percent of cancer patients survive if they are diagnosed late, but almost 90 percent survive if they are diagnosed early,” says Toner. But whether or not these circulating tumor cells can be found in early-stage patients is not yet clear, says Luis Diaz, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Diaz was not involved in the study. “Early-stage cancers might release very few cells into circulation,” he says. “That’s historically the problem with circulating tumor cells; you can only find them in advanced cancers.”

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Biomedical Imaging at One-Thousandth the Cost
Mathematical modeling enables $100 depth sensor to approximate the measurements of a $100,000 piece of lab equipment.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Game for Climate Adaptation
MIT-led project shows a new method to help communities manage climate risks.
Friday, November 06, 2015
Using Ultrasound to Improve Drug Delivery
New approach could aid in treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Drug-Resistance Mechanism in Tumor Cells Unravelled
Targeting the RNA-binding protein that promotes resistance could lead to better cancer therapies.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Quantum Physics Meets Genetic Engineering
Researchers use engineered viruses to provide quantum-based enhancement of energy transport.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Messing With The Monsoon
Manmade aerosols can alter rainfall in the world’s most populous region.
Friday, October 02, 2015
A Natural Light Switch
MIT scientists identify and map the protein behind a light-sensing mechanism.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Biologists Find Unexpected Role for Amyloid-Forming Protein
Yeast protein could offer clues to how Alzheimer’s plaques form in the brain.
Monday, September 28, 2015
How Flu Viruses Gain The Ability To Spread
New study reveals the soft palate is a key site for evolution of airborne transmissibility.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Viruses Join Fight Against Harmful Bacteria
Engineered viruses could combat human disease and improve food safety.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Targeting DNA
Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Targeting DNA
Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Personalized Heart Models For Surgical Planning
System can convert MRI scans into 3D-printed, physical models in a few hours.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Learning About Human Health Using Sewage
PhD student Mariana Matus studies human waste to understand individual and community health.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Intensity of Desert Storms May Affect Ocean Phytoplankton
MIT study finds phytoplankton are extremely sensitive to changing levels of desert dust.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
New Analysis Technique for Chiral Activity in Molecules
Professor Hyunwoo Kim of the Chemistry Department and his research team have developed a technique that can easily analyze the optical activity of charged compounds by using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.
Measuring microRNAs in Blood to Speed Cancer Detection
A simple, ultrasensitive microRNA sensor holds promise for the design of new diagnostic strategies and, potentially, for the prognosis and treatment of pancreatic and other cancers.
Best Test to Diagnose Strangles in Horses Identified
New research by Dr. Ashley Boyle of New Bolton Center’s Equine Field Service team shows that the best method for diagnosing Strangles in horses is to take samples from a horse’s guttural pouch and analyze them using a loop-mediated amplification (LAMP) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Tardigrade's Are DNA Master Thieves
Tardigrades, nearly microscopic animals that can survive the harshest of environments, including outer space, hold the record for the animal that has the most foreign DNA.
Lucentis Effective for Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
NIH-funded clinical trial marks first major advance in therapy in 40 years.
Antibiotics on Our Plates 'Could Lead to Health Catastrophe'
Two medical experts from The University of Queensland are urging China to curb its use of antibiotics in animals to avoid what could be a ‘major health catastrophe’ for humans.
The Secret Behind the Power of Bacterial Sex
Migration between different communities of bacteria is the key to the type of gene transfer that can lead to the spread of traits such as antibiotic resistance, according to researchers at Oxford University.
Farming’s in Their DNA
Ancient genomes reveal natural selection in action.
Personalized Drug Screening for Multiple Myeloma Patients
A personalized method for testing the effectiveness of drugs that treat multiple myeloma may predict quickly and more accurately the best treatments for individual patients with the bone marrow cancer.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos