Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) play a central role in cancer metastasis and represent a rich source of data for cancer prognostics and therapeutic guidance. Reliable CTC recovery from whole blood therefore promises a less invasive and more sensitive approach to cancer diagnosis and progression tracking. CTCs, however, are exceedingly rare in whole blood, making their quantitative recovery challenging. Several techniques capable of isolating these rare cells have been introduced and validated, yet most suffer from low CTC purity or viability, both of which are essential to develop a clinically viable CTC isolation platform. To address these limitations, we introduce a patterned, immunofunctional, photodegradable poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogel capture surface for the isolation and selective release of rare cell populations. Flat and herringbone capture surfaces were successfully patterned via PDMS micromolding and photopolymerization of photolabile PEG hydrogels. Patterned herringbone surfaces, designed to convectively transport cells to the capture surface, exhibited improved capture density relative to flat surfaces for target cell capture from buffer, buffy coat, and whole blood. Uniquely, captured cells were released for collection by degrading the hydrogel capture surface with either bulk or targeted irradiation with cytocompatible doses of long wavelength UV light. Recovered cells remained viable following capture and release and exhibited similar growth rates as untreated control cells. The implementation of molded photodegradable PEG hydrogels as a CTC capture surface provides a micropatternable, cytocompatible platform that imparts the unique ability to recover pure, viable CTC samples by selectively releasing target cells.
Keywords: Biomaterials; Circulating tumor cell; Immunocapture; Microfluidics.
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