Discrete microfluidics for the isolation of circulating tumor cell subpopulations targeting fibroblast activation protein alpha and epithelial cell adhesion molecule

NPJ Precis Oncol. 2017:1:24. doi: 10.1038/s41698-017-0028-8. Epub 2017 Jul 25.


Circulating tumor cells consist of phenotypically distinct subpopulations that originate from the tumor microenvironment. We report a circulating tumor cell dual selection assay that uses discrete microfluidics to select circulating tumor cell subpopulations from a single blood sample; circulating tumor cells expressing the established marker epithelial cell adhesion molecule and a new marker, fibroblast activation protein alpha, were evaluated. Both circulating tumor cell subpopulations were detected in metastatic ovarian, colorectal, prostate, breast, and pancreatic cancer patients and 90% of the isolated circulating tumor cells did not co-express both antigens. Clinical sensitivities of 100% showed substantial improvement compared to epithelial cell adhesion molecule selection alone. Owing to high purity (>80%) of the selected circulating tumor cells, molecular analysis of both circulating tumor cell subpopulations was carried out in bulk, including next generation sequencing, mutation analysis, and gene expression. Results suggested fibroblast activation protein alpha and epithelial cell adhesion molecule circulating tumor cells are distinct subpopulations and the use of these in concert can provide information needed to navigate through cancer disease management challenges.