The University of Arizona Institute for Collaborative Bioresearch (BIO5) has in mind a microdetection device for fast detection of metastatic cancer cells:
With existing methods, such as histological tissue assessment or blood tests probing for tumor marker molecules, most cancers can only be detected after the primary tumor has already formed or grown to a detectable size.
“One of our goals is to capture metastatic cancer cells from the blood and then use microanalytical tools to further analyze the properties of these cells and their response to therapeutics,” says Ronald Heimark, a professor in the department of surgery at the College of Medicine and one of the leading researchers in the seed grant project…
The group is developing microdevices that look like credit-card-sized circuit boards. A closer look reveals a multitude of tiny structures – rows of channels, each much thinner than a human hair, running parallel to each other and converging in places.
“This is only one example of what a microdevice can look like,” says Zohar [professor and director of Micro/Nano Fabrication Center at BIO5 -ed.], who is an expert in microfabrication and microfluidics.
“The idea here is to coat the channels with antibodies that selectively bind to proteins on the surfaces of the cells we want to isolate,” he explains.
Similar to airplane passengers passing through airport security lanes, the cells in a sample pass through the channels on the microdevice. Cells that have the surface protein in question are detained, while all other cells leave the microdevice.
Such a device could identify metastasizing cancer cells based on their surface molecules and capture them.
“Isolating cancer cells from blood samples has been very hard to do with current methods because in relation to all the other cells in the blood, there are so few cancer cells,” says Heimark. “Many patients face a poor prognosis because their cancer is not diagnosed early enough.”