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Microchip-based device can detect rare tumor cells in bloodstream
Date:12/19/2007

A team of investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Biomicroelectromechanical Systems (BioMEMS) Resource Center and the MGH Cancer Center has developed a microchip-based device that can isolate, enumerate and analyze circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from a blood sample. CTCs are viable cells from solid tumors carried in the bloodstream at a level of one in a billion cell. Because of their rarity and fragility, it has not been possible to get information from CTCs that could help clinical decision-making, but the new device called the CTC-chip, has the potential to be an invaluable tool for monitoring and guiding cancer treatment.

This use of nanofluidics to find such rare cells is revolutionary, the first application of this technology to a broad, clinically important problem, says Daniel Haber, MD, director of the MGH Cancer Center and a co-author of the report in the December 20 issue of Nature. While much work remains to be done, this approach raises the possibility of rapidly and noninvasively monitoring tumor response to treatment, allowing changes if the treatment is not effective, and the potential of early detection screening in people at increased risk for cancer.

The existence of CTCs has been known since the mid-19th century, but since they are so hard to find, it has not been possible to adequately investigate their biology and significance. Microchip-based technologies have the ability to accurately sense and sort specific types of cells, but have only been used with microliter-sized fluid samples, the amount of blood in a fingerprick. Since CTCs are so rare, detecting them in useful quantities requires analyzing samples that are 1,000 to 10,000 times larger.

To meet that challenge the MGH BioMEMS Resource Center research team led by Mehmet Toner, PhD, senior author of the Nature report and director of the center in the MGH Department of Surgery, and Ronald Tompkins, MD, ScD, chief of the MGH
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital  
Source:Eurekalert

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Microchip-based device can detect rare tumor cells in bloodstream
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