A negative selection methodology using a microfluidic platform for the isolation and enumeration of circulating tumor cells

Methods. 2013 Dec 1;64(2):137-43. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2013.05.027. Epub 2013 Jun 24.


Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) exist in the peripheral blood stream of metastatic cancer patients at rates of approximately 1 CTC per billion background cells. In order to capture and analyze this rare cell population, various techniques exist that range from antibody-based surface marker positive selection to methods that use physical properties of CTCs to negatively exclude background cells from a CTC population. However, methods to capture cells for functional downstream analyses are limited due to inaccessibility of the captured sample or labeling techniques that may be prohibitive to cell function. Here, we present a negative selection method that leverages a Microfluidic Cell Concentrator (MCC) to allow collection and analysis of this rare cell population without needing cell adhesion or other labeling techniques to keep the cells within the chamber. Because the MCC is designed to allow collection and analysis of non-adherent cell populations, multiple staining steps can be applied in parallel to a given CTC population without losing any of the population. The ability of the MCC for patient sample processing of CTCs for enumeration was demonstrated with five patient samples, revealing an average of 0.31 CTCs/mL. The technique was compared to a previously published method - the ELISPOT - that showed similar CTC levels among the five patient samples tested. Because the MCC method does not use positive selection, the method can be applied across a variety of tumor types with no changes to the process.

Keywords: Circulating tumor cells; ELISPOT; Microfluidics; Negative selection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / blood
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / blood
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunospot Assay / methods
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • EPCAM protein, human
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule