Labyrinth chip separates cancer cells from blood for improved personalized treatment

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Researchers from the University of Michigan have developed a labyrinth chip capable of separating circulating cancer cells from other cells in the body. Explained in Cell System, the chip aims to provide physicians with a tool to personalize cancer treatment and monitor genetic changes.

Conventional chips using spiral-shaped channels often contaminate cancer cells with other cells, making samples inaccurate. The labyrinth chip uses corners to separate the blood flow of cells according to cell size with small white and red blood cells being sorted into separate parts of the chip.

"Bigger cells, like most cancer cells, focus pretty fast due to the curvature. But the smaller the cell is, the longer it takes to get focused," said Sunitha Nagrath, University of Michigan associate professor of chemical engineering, who led the development of the chip. "The corners produce a mixing action that makes the smaller white blood cells come close to the equilibrium position much faster."

In isolating tumor cells in blood samples, physicians would be able to identify specific measures to personalize a patient's cancer care based on the cells retrieved. The chip also allows for physicians to monitor changes in the cells genetic makeup to update treatment, while also being able to identify aggressive cancer cells that would spread the cancer.

"We think that this may be a way to monitor patients in clinical trials," said Max Wicha, an oncology professor at Michigan Medicine. "Rather than just counting the cells, by capturing them, we can perform molecular analysis so know what we can target with treatments."