A combined micromagnetic-microfluidic device for rapid capture and culture of rare circulating tumor cells

Lab Chip. 2012 Jun 21;12(12):2175-81. doi: 10.1039/c2lc40072c. Epub 2012 Mar 28.


Here we describe a combined microfluidic-micromagnetic cell separation device that has been developed to isolate, detect and culture circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from whole blood, and demonstrate its utility using blood from mammary cancer-bearing mice. The device was fabricated from polydimethylsiloxane and contains a microfluidic architecture with a main channel and redundant 'double collection' channel lined by two rows of dead-end side chambers for tumor cell collection. The microdevice design was optimized using computational simulation to determine dimensions, magnetic forces and flow rates for cell isolation using epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) antibody-coated magnetic microbeads (2.8 μm diameter). Using this device, isolation efficiencies increased in a linear manner and reached efficiencies close to 90% when only 2 to 80 breast cancer cells were spiked into a small volume (1.0 mL) of blood taken from wild type mice. The high sensitivity visualization capabilities of the device also allowed detection of a single cell within one of its dead-end side chambers. When blood was removed from FVB C3(1)-SV40 T-antigen mammary tumor-bearing transgenic mice at different stages of tumor progression, cells isolated in the device using anti-EpCAM-beads and magnetically collected within the dead-end side chambers, also stained positive for pan-cytokeratin-FITC and DAPI, negative for CD45-PerCP, and expressed SV40 large T antigen, thus confirming their identity as CTCs. Using this isolation approach, we detected a time-dependent rise in the number of CTCs in blood of female transgenic mice, with a dramatic increase in the numbers of metastatic tumor cells appearing in the blood after 20 weeks when tumors transition to invasive carcinoma and exhibit increased growth of metastases in this model. Importantly, in contrast to previously described CTC isolation methods, breast tumor cells collected from a small volume of blood removed from a breast tumor-bearing animal remain viable and they can be easily removed from these devices and expanded in culture for additional analytical studies or potential drug sensitivity testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Immobilized / immunology
  • Antigens, Polyomavirus Transforming / genetics
  • Antigens, Polyomavirus Transforming / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / immunology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Immunomagnetic Separation*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating*
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Simian virus 40 / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Immobilized
  • Antigens, Polyomavirus Transforming
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate