New Device May Enhance Cancer Treatment

Microfluidic device can help physicians determine optimal treatment of cancer.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have created a microfluidic device that can isolate cancer cells that escaped from a tumor into the blood stream.

These escaped cells, called circulating tumor cells, have the potential to spread into other tissues within the body. However, they’re useful in helping physicians to determine the best course of treatment for their patient.

“These cells are particularly important for prostate cancer, where the site of metastasis is typically in the bone, where biopsies are difficult or impossible,” said lead researcher Hongshen Ma.

The microfluidic device was designed to capture cells based on their distinct internal structure by using a mechanical analysis instead of a blood chemistry analysis. During the study, researchers first tested the device using blood samples spiked with cancer cells.

Next, the microfluidic device was used to analyze the blood samples of 20 patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, along with 4 healthy individuals.

“In the first experiment, the device was able to capture more than 90% of the cells,” said study co-author Kim N. Chi. “Importantly, in patient samples the device captured about 25 times the number of cancer cells and produced fewer false positives compared to the conventional CellSearch system, which also analyzes blood samples.”

Currently, the researchers are attempting to genome sequence individual circulating tumor cells from patients at the Vancouver Prostate Center. This work would allow researchers to determine which mutations caused metastasis and help the physician figure out the appropriate form of treatment.