A microfluidic chip was developed and tested in a recent study to detect circulating tumour cells (CTCs). Those are elevated in a patient with prostate cancer and thus if detected in the blood can signal trouble. As with all cancers, early diagnosis can determine a patient’s chance of survival. So it is very important that we develop fast, accurate and cheap methods to detect various types of cancer, especially those that occur more often.
This device works by using microchannels, a programmable pressure pump and a smartphone camera set at slow motion capture. I will attempt to describe this device here in an oversimplified way and for more information i will link to the actual article describing the device in detail.
As usual with microfluidic devices, there are two layers. Those form channels of varying width and when cells are pushed through them they have to fit. CTCs, don’t fit very well and they have to squeeze to get through and they get trapped in a channel in the middle. After a while they eventually manage to squeeze again and go out the other side. While this happens those cells are captured by the camera and counted. The blood sample that goes through those channels has to be prepared and be of a certain volume. Also, the cells have to be stained for counting under the camera.
It is a simple system and the cost is relatively low because of that. Realistically though, unless there is an automated way, i don’t think that such a method can be used outside of a blood testing lab, or be included in a general blood test, unless specifically requested by the doctor who reviews the results and examines the patient.
The results though, the accuracy of the system appears to be very good, and while i am not an expert in such devices, i do appreciate their complexity, size and effectiveness. A challenge that still remains is the fabrication process but i think this would be easily overcome if we were to mass produce such chips.
What do you think? Did i miss something? As with every post i want you to comment and let me know what you think. You can find the original article in the sources at the end as always.