The technique, which the researchers call Hydro-Seq, uses a microfluidic chip to capture circulating tumor cells. Officials said this technique allows for comprehensive genetic profiling of cancer cells and is a dramatic improvement over current approaches. Earlier techniques only allowed researchers to gather information about the genetic profile of the cancer cell, or to hijack most cancer cells and search for only a few genes. According to the university, genetic profiles often neglected important cells in the body believed to have spread to cancer. “Our dew allows us to capture circulating tumor cells and subsequently extract genetic information without contamination of red and white blood cells,” said Euisik Yoon, Specialist in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Some modern cancer drug applications work by attacking cancerous cells, officials say, but cancer-cell genes can fluctuate over the course of treatment. Finding a solution is important, Wicha said, because repeating biopsies is painful and potentially dangerous for the patient. Using a chip to capture cancer cells can be a good way to monitor whether the cancer is gone or is resistant to treatment.
With this new method, the team worked with 666 cancer cells from the blood of 21 breast cancer patients. Even within a single patient, it was observed that cancer cells often behaved erratically. Wicha’s group began their work examining stem cell effects on cancer spread. They observed that cancer stem cells make up a small percentage of tumor cells, but a higher proportion of cells in the bloodstream.
The Hydro-Seq filters the blood cells and analyzes each blood cell through channels on the microchip that are slightly larger than a dime. Just slightly larger than a penny, this lab-on-a-chip provides comprehensive genetic profiling of cancer from a blood sample.