When screening for cervical cancer, immunofluorescence staining is used to identify the presence of proteins that are biomarkers for the disease. It is a slow and meticulous process that requires lab technicians to prepare individual cells for analysis. Even then, since not all cells show the same disease characteristics, the rate of false negatives can be very high.
Now, a new device developed by scientists at the University of Tokyo and Teikyo University School of Medicine in Japan can grab onto and screen individual cells for the presence of p16 and Ki-67 proteins that are associated with cervical cancer.
The microfluidic device, called Electroactive Microwell Array with Barriers (EMAB), features an array of tiny wells that can hold one cell at a time. On the bottom are electrodes that create an electric field that ensures the cells stay in place, a phenomenon known as dielectrophoresis.
“Major challenges were trapping suspended cells at the single-cell level and analyzing them using antibodies with minimum loss of trapped cells,” said Soo Hyeon Kim, one of the leaders of the research. “By just putting a small structure behind the microwell, the cells efficiently stayed in the microwells even with the unstable flow used for delivery of reagents.”
In lab tests, the EMAB device captured 98% of the cells presented to it and successfully held onto 92% of them long enough to perform immunofluorescence staining.
The researchers are already looking forward to using their device to try to screen patients in a clinical setting to help verify its practical utility.