WPI Liquid Biopsy Chip Snares Circulating Tumor Cells in Blood Drops from Cancer Patients

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"These initial clinical studies," Panchapakesan said, "in which we were able to capture and identify individual CTCs of varying phenotypes, show that this device could become an important tool not only for tracking the progression of cancers and their response to radiation or chemotherapy, but also in making predictions about the likely course of the cancer, which could help physicians identity the most effective course of therapy."

The tests also showed that the carbon nanotube chip can capture cells regardless of their size and can also capture clusters of CTCs in addition to individual cells. (CTC clusters are rare, but they appear to have a greater ability to seed new tumors than individual CTCs.) Because the cells settle gently onto the nanotubes and latch on with tendrils that extend from the cell body, they are not damaged.

And while captured cells must be removed from other devices for analysis, which can be difficult with devices that use narrow microfluidic channels and often results in damage to the cells, the cells captured by the carbon nanotube chip remain viable and can even be cultured. In addition, because the chips are transparent, it is possible to stain and study captured cells without removing them.

The chip described in the Lab on a Chip paper is the latest generation of a liquid biopsy chip that has been under development for several years in Panchapakesan's Small Systems Laboratory at WPI in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Louisville.

The chips are made with materials and batch fabrication techniques similar to those used to make semiconductors. The current generation is a 76-element array of test wells on a glass and silicon wafer. In addition to making mass production possible, the multi-well design makes it easy to split a blood sample among multiple wells. The small volume of blood placed in each well makes it possible to more accurately count the attached CTCs.

Panchapakesan said he believes the latest generation of carbon nanotube liquid biopsy chip is ready for clinical trials. Toward that end, he is working with StrandSmart Inc., a Silicon-Valley start-up led by CEO Adrianna Davies. The team envisions testing a point of care (POC) device to detect cancer in the earliest stages globally.

"This potentially life-saving technology could have multiple beneficial applications," Panchapakesan said. "It could help shed light on the complex biological and genetic processes at play in cancer. It could detect cancers at a very early stage by capturing the cells that nascent tumors shed into the blood. It could identify CTCs with metastatic potential before new tumors even begins, and it could help shape treatments customized to each person's cancer."

The highly interdisciplinary team of researchers working on this technology consists of graduate students Masoud Loeian and Farzaneh Farhadi, and postdoctoral researcher Sadegh Mehdi Aghaei at WPI; Dr. Mark Johnson and Dr. Hong Wei Yang at UMass Medical School; and undergraduate student Veeresh Rai, along with Dr. Farrukh Aqil, Dr. Mounika Mandadi, and Dr. Shesh N. Rai at the JG Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville. Additionally, the tissue and biobank facility at UMass Medical School provided some of the patient samples for the study.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI, a global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI's pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more.



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