This device can easily, cheaply detect cancer cells in a blood sample
It’s one of the most exciting areas of cancer research, but identifying the tumors through blood tests remains difficult, particularly for early-stage detection.
Despite breakthrough blood-test research for many types of cancers and specific sources such as lung and breast cancers, and the flourishing field of development of multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, screening generally still involves invasive biopsies of cells.
Researchers at the University of Technology (UTS) in Sydney, Australia, are hoping to change that, with the development of their new biotech, the Static Droplet Microfluidic (SDM) device. It can quickly detect circulating tumor cells (CTC) that have split from the cancer source to enter the bloodstream. It paves the way for very early detection, monitoring and treatment.
“A single tumor cell can exist among billions of blood cells in just one milliliter of blood, making it very difficult to find," said Majid Warkiana, professor from the UTS School of Biomedical Engineering. "The new detection technology has 38,400 chambers capable of isolating and classifying the number of metabolically active tumor cells."
The SDM can pick out tumor cells through a unique metabolic signature involving waste product lactate.
“In the 1920s, Otto Warburg discovered that cancer cells consume a lot of glucose and so produce more lactate,” said Warkiani. “Our device monitors single cells for increased lactate using pH-sensitive fluorescent dyes that detect acidification around cells.”
Once the SDM has sounded the alarm on the problem cells, they can undergo further genetic and molecular analysis to determine the source and inform treatment.
CTCs are the precursors of metastasis, in which the cancer migrates to other organs and is the responsible for 90% of the roughly 600,000 deaths from the disease each year in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ability of the device to detect a very small number of CTCs could lead to lifesaving intervention.
The device is also designed to be operated by medical staff, meaning easy and inexpensive integration into clinics and a much less involved, invasive and risky experience for the patient.
“Managing cancer through the assessment of tumor cells in blood samples is far less invasive than taking tissue biopsies," said Warkiani. "It allows doctors to do repeat tests and monitor a patient’s response to treatment."
The development team is so confident in the SDM that it’s filed for a provisional patent and plans on a commercial release of the device.
The study was published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Source: University of Technology Sydney