IBM scientists have created a microfluidic device that is able to sort microscopic particles by size down to 20 nm. This capability should help separate exosomes from bodily fluids, which may one day become commonly tracked biomarkers of cancer and some other diseases.
Exosomes are vesicles, as small as 30 nm, released by cell membranes and which contain genetic and protein information about the cells they originate from. Since cancer cells also produce exosomes, spotting and identifying them is an important aspect toward the goal of developing liquid biopsies that only need a blood sample to run.
IBM’s new microchip uses what’s known as a deterministic lateral displacement (DLD) pillar array, essentially a tiny Plinko machine rigged to favor certain size particles to move sideways as they fall between posts. This lets the technology to separate exosomes from other sample components and to accurately sort them based on size.
Although the device isn’t exactly a cancer detector, it may make early diagnosis and even screening of a variety of cancers possible. Thanks to the new microchip, scientists will have the capability to readily study exosomes, compare them to each other, and develop methods of identifying their sources.
The device is already at work at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, being tested to see how it can help with diagnosing prostate cancer earlier, faster, and without unpleasant traditional biopsies.
Study in Nature Nanotechnology: Nanoscale lateral displacement arrays for the separation of exosomes and colloids down to 20 nm…