Cancer cells naturally detach from a primary tumor and can sometimes be found in the blood of cancer patients. These cells, called circulating tumor cells (CTCs), are extremely rare—there is thought to be one for every one billion normal cells. If they were reliably detectable, CTCs could help physicians detect and treat cancer and learn how cancers spread.
The technologies available for detecting CTCs help scientists learn about these cells, but they are not usually sensitive or reliable enough for physicians to use in the clinic to make cancer treatment decisions. This SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team, composed of clinicians, bioengineers, and molecular biologists, has developed a novel approach to detecting and isolating CTCs. They have taken advantage of microscopic fluid dynamics to construct a chip with 100 times the sensitivity of existing technologies.
The CTC-Chip is the size of a business card, has channels with a herringbone design, and is coated with material capable of attaching to CTCs while allowing normal blood cells to flow through unimpeded. It offers unprecedented opportunity to detect tumor cells in patients with early-stage cancer, to genetically characterize tumor cells without an invasive biopsy, and to determine responsiveness to targeted cancer drugs.