Circulating tumor cells (CTCs), besides spreading cancer, often help oncologists track the disease and how different therapies are working. It’s a relatively new field because capturing CTCs is not easy due to their rarity in blood. An even rarer thing are clusters of CTCs that are sometimes captured along with individual tumor cells. Now researchers have come up with a new device specifically engineered to capture clusters of CTCs. Since they haven’t been studied in detail before, these clusters may provide new knowledge about cancer, how it spreads, and what new therapies may work against it.
The Cluster-Chip device accepts whole blood as input, and pushes it through a field of triangular obstacles positioned specifically to trap CTC clusters. The researchers tested the system by introducing a preset population of CTC clusters and counting what is captured. They showed that the new device is able to separate 99% of CTC clusters that have four or more cells, 70% of clusters with three cells, and 41% of two celled clusters.