In a study recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers from MIT have developed a microfluidic device that can detect and quantify plasma cells in blood, meaning that a simple blood test could be used to detect the cells, rather than a painful bone marrow biopsy.
Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell in the bone marrow. Multiple myeloma is a plasma cell cancer. To date, multiple myeloma has been diagnosed using a bone marrow biopsy followed by laboratory analysis of the bone marrow cells to look for signs of cancer. In multiple myeloma, plasma cells can leak into the blood, but until now they have been very difficult to detect in blood samples.
This new microfluidic device can detect and quantify cancerous plasma cells in blood samples, providing patients with a minimally invasive alternative to bone marrow biopsies. The microfluidic chip was customized to specifically capture the cancerous plasma cells based on a protein expressed on the cell surface. As blood draws are simple and relatively non-invasive, the technique may allow doctors to follow a patient’s recovery, by taking repeated blood samples and monitoring the levels of circulating plasma cells over time.
Lead author on the study, Mohammad Qasaimeh made the following statement about the research: “Capturing plasma cells from blood samples can serve as a liquid biopsy, which can be performed in clinics as often as required, and serve as a diagnostic and prognostic test during and after chemotherapy treatment. Moreover, captured cells can be used for drug testing and thus serve as a tool for personalized medicine.”