The isolation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) using microfluidics is attractive as the flow conditions can be accurately manipulated to achieve an efficient separation. CTCs are rare events within the peripheral blood of metastatic cancer patients which makes them hard to detect. The presence of CTCs is likely to indicate the severity of the disease and increasing evidences show its use for prognostic and treatment monitoring purposes. We demonstrated an effective separation using a microfluidic device to utilize the unique differences in size and deformability of cancer cells to blood cells. Using physical structures placed in the path of blood specimens in a microchannel, CTCs which are generally larger and stiffer are retained while most blood constituents are removed. The placements of the structures are optimized by computational analysis to enhance the isolation efficiency. With blood specimens from metastatic lung cancer patients, we confirmed the successful detection of CTCs. The operations for processing blood are straightforward and permit multiplexing of the microdevices to concurrently work with different samples. The microfluidic device is optically transparent which makes it simple to be integrated to existing laboratory microscopes and immunofluorescence staining can be done in situ to distinguish cancer cells from hematopoietic cells. This also minimizes the use of expensive staining reagents, given the small size of the microdevice. Identification of CTCs will aid in the detection of malignancy and disease stage as well as understanding the phenotypic and genotypic expressions of cancer cells.
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