Engineers at the University of Michigan have developed a high speed microfluidic chip that can separate circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from whole blood and analyze them. The technology, which may make biopsies and other diagnostic tests unnecessary in many cases, is impressive in that it is able to attract highly rare CTCs and to sequence their genetics within a single system.
Circulating tumor cells offer the possibility of “liquid biopsies” that only require a simple blood draw to screen for cancers. While CTCs are rare, most tumors tend to shed these cell which end up flowing through the body along with blood. These same cells cause metastasis, but their presence opens the possibility for blood-based diagnostics that can identify the presence of an existing tumor within the body.
Previously, technologies to capture and genetically sequence CTC cells have had to choose between a high capture or a high sequencing rate. This meant that while you could trap a lot of CTCs you could only get a bit of genetic information out of them, or you could do a complete sequencing but this could be performed on only a few viable cells.
The University of Michigan system is so accurate that it grabs onto only CTCs, without red and white blood cells polluting the sample. The CTCs remain healthy and intact post separation, leaving them in perfect shape for sequencing.
The team tested their technology on the blood of 21 breast cancer patients, separating a total of 666 CTCs from the samples. They then performed genetic sequencing on these cells and discovered that patients can shed CTCs that are quite different from each other and that up to 50% of the CTCs displayed stem cell-like properties, a particularly interesting finding.
Study in Nature Communications: Hydro-Seq enables contamination-free high-throughput single-cell RNA-sequencing for circulating tumor cells…