Sound chip can identify cancer cells

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Washington, April 7 (IANS) A tiny inexpensive disposable chip based on acoustic separation method can isolate circulating cancer cells (CTC) from blood cells and improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients, says a team of engineers, including an Indian American.

“It promises to offer new avenues for basic research into the pathology and metastasis, and for clinical diagnosis of rare tumour cells,” said Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon University and part of the research team.

“Looking for circulating tumour cells in a blood sample is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Tony Jun Huang, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Carnegie Mellon University explained.

“Typically, the CTCs are about one in every one billion blood cells in the sample,” Huang, said.

Unlike conventional separation methods, surface acoustic waves can separate cells in a much gentler way with a simple and low-cost device, the researchers noted.

The researchers used two types of human cancer cells to optimise the acoustic separation — HELA cells and MCF7 cells. These cells are similar in size.

They then ran an experiment separating these cells and had a separation rate of more than 83 percent. They then did the separation on other cancer cells, ones for which the device had not been optimised, and again had a separation rate of more than 83 percent.

“Because these devices are intended for use with human blood, they need to be disposable,” Huang said.

“We are currently figuring out manufacturing and mass production possibilities,” Huang noted.

Physicians could use the devices to monitor how patients reacted to chemotherapy, for initial diagnosis and for determining treatment and prognosis.

“This work, has led to the design and development of a label-free platform for identifying and separating CTCs while preserving the integrity of the cell,” Suresh, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, pointed out.

The findings appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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