Pharma Focus Europe

New Liquid Biopsy Chip Allows to Trap Cancer Cells Easily

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have developed an innovative chip that can effectively trap and identify metastatic cancer cells present in a small blood sample taken from a cancer patient. This breakthrough technology, known as Liquid Biopsy, enables the capture and identification of tumor cells and/or DNA.

Unlike many existing devices that employ microfluidic approaches, this new chip utilizes a straightforward mechanical method that proves to be more efficient in capturing cancer cells. The chip incorporates an array of carbon nanotubes, to which antibodies are attached at the bottom of tiny wells. Cancer cells settle at the bottom of these wells and connect with the antibodies based on their surface markers.

The Liquid Biopsy Chip serves the purpose of detecting early signs of metastasis and assisting physicians in selecting targeted treatments specific to the identified cancer cells. This technology allows for precise capture of tumor cells with high accuracy.

Each chip contains numerous small elements, approximately one-tenth of an inch (3 millimeters) in size. Each element consists of a well at the bottom where carbon nanotubes with attached antibodies are located. Each well contains a specific antibody that selectively binds to a particular type of cancer cell based on genetic markers on its surface. Consequently, this device enables the capture of various types of cancer cells using a single blood sample.

During laboratory experiments, the researchers successfully filled a total of 170 wells with less than 0.3 fluid ounces (0.85 mL) of blood. The capture efficiency of the device ranged from 62% to 100%, with the ability to capture between one and a thousand cells per device using such a small sample.

The carbon nanotubes within the chip function as semiconductors. When a cancer cell binds to one of the attached antibodies, it generates an electrical signature that can be detected. By analyzing these signals, the captured cancer cells in the array can be identified.

The individual arrays can be removed and taken to a laboratory where the captured cells can be stained and identified under a microscope. The process of generating electrical signatures and binding takes only a few minutes, suggesting the possibility of obtaining same-day results from a blood test using this chip.

This device has the capability to directly capture circulating tumor cells and exosomes, thereby enhancing its ability to detect metastasis. Additionally, the WPI device excels in separating cancer cells from other cells and materials in the blood through a distinctive differential settling process, which distinguishes it from current microfluidic designs.

The chip employs a passive leukocyte depletion strategy. Although initially designed to detect breast cancer, the WPI team anticipates that the device can be adapted to detect a wide range of tumor types, including lung and pancreas cancer.

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