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Scientists develop technology to capture tumor cells

Monday, May 20, 2019 - 12:52pm
Alan Flurry

A UGA engineering professor and chemistry doctoral students have published their work on a microfluidic device that may help researchers better understand metastatic tumors:

Instead of searching for a needle in a haystack, what if you were able to sweep the entire haystack to one side, leaving only the needle behind? That’s the strategy researchers in the University of Georgia College of Engineering followed in developing a new microfluidic device that separates elusive circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from a sample of whole blood.

CTCs break away from cancerous tumors and flow through the bloodstream, potentially leading to new metastatic tumors. The isolation of CTCs from the blood provides a minimally invasive alternative for basic understanding, diagnosis and prognosis of metastatic cancer. But most studies are limited by technical challenges in capturing intact and viable CTCs with minimal contamination.

“A typical sample of 7 to 10 milliliters of blood may contain only a few CTCs,” said Leidong Mao, a professor in UGA’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the project’s principal investigator. “They’re hiding in whole blood with millions of white blood cells. It’s a challenge to get our hands on enough CTCs so scientists can study them and understand them.”

Great work by Mao, Yang Liu, a doctoral student in the department of chemistry and the paper’s co-lead author, and Wujun Zhao, a postdoctoral scholar at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Zhao worked on the project while completing his doctorate in chemistry at UGA and is the paper’s other lead author. A promising new device and a dynamic example of collaboration between engineering and the sciences.

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