Close-up image shows the microfluidic device, which is designed to capture cancer cell clusters in blood samples. Photo: Rob Felt.
Researchers have developed a microfluidic device that captures clusters of tumor cells circulating in the bloodstream. Once captured, the clusters can be studied to help researchers understand their role in cancer metastasis and perhaps one day give doctors the information they need to tailor treatments to specific patients.
Called the Cluster-Chip, the device was developed by a Massachusetts General Hospital research team that included Fatih Sarioglu, now an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech.
The device uses the unique physical properties of the clusters to capture them from blood samples being passed through the chip, which contains rows of triangular microposts. Single cancer cells and ordinary blood cells pass through without being captured. The flow rate is kept low to minimize the possibility that clusters will be broken or distorted.
“Cancer is an extremely heterogeneous disease, and even within the same tumor you can find cells with different surface antigens,” Sarioglu said. “Since we are capturing clusters because of their physical properties, this chip is directly applicable to all types of cancer.” The research was reported in the journal Nature Methods. — MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL