Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) that dislodge from a primary tumor and travel through the blood stream can spread the disease, but can also be valuable for monitoring how a therapy is working. There are now quite a few devices out there that have been developed that filter out CTCs from whole blood, but keeping the cells alive and making them available for further laboratory testing has been difficult. Researchers at the University of Michigan have now created a microfluidic device that does just that.
Previously it was possible to use graphene oxide, incredibly thin sheets of carbon and oxygen, to capture CTCs, but they remained stuck to the material. Heating or using chemical reactions to remove the cells does damage to them, so the researchers used a newly developed polymer that breaks up at a preset temperature to solve the problem.
Bits of graphene oxide were mixed with the polymer that would dissolve below 54 degrees. Using previously developed techniques, the CTCs were captured, but this time a bit of cooling forced the polymer to break up and release the CTCs.
The researchers report that about 80% of the caught cells were alive when released, which bodes well for the future of cancer management via rapid CTC detection.