Research Projects

Clinical relevance of CTC capture

Previous research has demonstrated that the isolation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from circulation can be a useful and noninvasive diagnostic tool. By monitoring the concentration of CTCs in a cancer patient's blood stream, an oncologist may determine the effectiveness of an applied therapy on a day-to-day basis as well as other prognostic indicators. The number of CTCs varies significantly among patients and among different types of cancer, but in all cases, CTCs are rare relative to other blood cells. The field of microfluidics shows a promosing capability to capture the cells specifically and enable subsequent genomic and proteomic analysis.

On-chip blood sorting and cell counting

Isolation of CTCs can be approached in several of ways. CTCs are usually approximately 20 um in diameter while the blood cells are generally smaller than 10um in diameter. This size difference enables us to separate CTCs from blood cells using different microfludic gemometries in a method known as inertial sorting. In addition to inertial sorting, the extracellular expression patterns of cancer cells, specifically how they differ from those of normal blood cells, is exploited in immunocapture. Capture moieties such as antibodies can be tethered directly to a substrate through functionalization, or the cells may be captured using immunolabeled magnetic beads. These techniques offer a superior option for cell sorting with the advantages of a high through-put continuous process run at a controllable flow rate, often with minimal preprocessing.

Future directions

Our research interests are unified by the drive to develop creative new devices that are ultimately able to traverse the gap from benchside to bedside. We are currently exploring novel nanomaterials, processing clinical samples, and conducting downstream analysis of captured cells in order to design and optimize state-of-the-art technology for early disease detection and the study of fundamental cancer biology.