Scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are reporting in journal Nanotechnology on a new way of trapping circulating tumor cells that doesn’t rely on microfluidic techniques common in previously developed devices. Because it is arguably a simpler approach that relies more on simple mechanics, the device is cheap and works impressively well.
It consists of a series of tiny wells the bottoms of which have antibodies held down by carbon nanotubes. Each well can have different antibodies that grab onto different cancer cell types, and when a matching circulating tumor cell binds to an antibody it gets held down in the pit of the well. To detect that cells are actually being grabbed by the antibodies, a simple electrode setup is used that detects small changes in the conductivity of the bottom of the sample.
Because the wells are pretty small, a single small blood sample can be spread among many wells and be used to test for many cancer cell types. In their research, the Worcester team successfully used 170 wells that together needed only 0.85 milliliters of blood to fill.
Here’s a Worcester Polytechnic video about the research: