A microfluidic device for label-free, physical capture of circulating tumor cell clusters

Nat Methods. 2015 Jul;12(7):685-91. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.3404. Epub 2015 May 18.


Cancer cells metastasize through the bloodstream either as single migratory circulating tumor cells (CTCs) or as multicellular groupings (CTC clusters). Existing technologies for CTC enrichment are designed to isolate single CTCs, and although CTC clusters are detectable in some cases, their true prevalence and significance remain to be determined. Here we developed a microchip technology (the Cluster-Chip) to capture CTC clusters independently of tumor-specific markers from unprocessed blood. CTC clusters are isolated through specialized bifurcating traps under low-shear stress conditions that preserve their integrity, and even two-cell clusters are captured efficiently. Using the Cluster-Chip, we identified CTC clusters in 30-40% of patients with metastatic breast or prostate cancer or with melanoma. RNA sequencing of CTC clusters confirmed their tumor origin and identified tissue-derived macrophages within the clusters. Efficient capture of CTC clusters will enable the detailed characterization of their biological properties and role in metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE67939