Lester J. Rosario                                                                  BIOL3095                               ...
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A Chip against Cancer: Microfluidics Spots Circulating Tumor Cells


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A Chip against Cancer: Microfluidics Spots Circulating Tumor Cells

  1. 1. Lester J. Rosario BIOL3095 October 1, 2010 Summary A Chip against Cancer: Microfluidics Spots Circulating Tumor Cells Today people undergo treatments with fear of being harmed; especially cancer patients.A group at Massachusetts General Hospital is currently refining and testing a lab-on-a-chip thatcan sample and analyze the circulating tumor cells from just a teaspoon of a patient’s blood,avoiding the dangerous biopsies. Most carcinomas shed malignant cells that enter thebloodstream and disseminate, latching on to new areas and forming tumors. These cells arecalled “circulating tumor cells”(CTCs), and their presence in the blood constitute fewer than onein a billion, in patients with metastatic cancer. Scientists have adapted microfuidics technologyto analyze tiny amounts of fluid and gas, to capture those uncommon cells. The CTC-shipcomprises a silicon-etched chip fitted with microscopic columns, a chamber to enclose the fluidand the chip, and a pneumatic pump. The columns (microposts) function as minature test tubeswhere cells and chemicals mix, adhere and undergo evaluation. The CTC-chip has 78,000microposts to grab cancer cells from the blood as it meanders through the system via exquisitelycontrolled suction. The posts are coated with antibodies to the epithelial cell adhesion(EpCAM), that it is what almost all carcinoma cells bear at the surface. Normal blood cells lackEpCAM, so only the malignant cells bind to it. The researchers used blood samples of 116patients with lung, prostate, pancreatic, breast or colorectal cancer and successfully isolatedCTCs in all but one case. In another research, scientists used the chip to evaluate tumor geneticsin 27 patients with lung cancer. They identified abnormalities in CTCs in almost all cases, andnoted emerging mutations in some patients that confer resistance to the medication they weretaking. Through a biopsy it would have been necessary to repeat the test in order to identify allthese abnormalities. Also a small biopsy bears risk of blood loss, infection and, in rare instances,collapse of the affected lung. At Mass General, the researchers are evaluating the effectivenessof the chip for the treatment of patients with breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. Mehmet Toner,leader of the team that engineered the device, sees unlimited possibilities once this chip is provedin bigger clinical studies. In the future, he remarks, it could be a screening tool to find nascentcancers and “could be used at annual checkups.”