At the Sixteenth International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences (microTAS) to be held Oct. 28-Nov. 1, in Okinawa, Japan, University of Cincinnati researchers will present four papers, including one detailing improvements in rare cell isolation and one detailing improvements, in terms of cost and time, of common blood tests.
Ian Papautsky, associate professor in UC's School of Electronic and Computing Systems (SECS), part of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and a UC team are leading these research efforts.
In a paper titled "Continuous Rare Cell Extraction Using Self-Releasing Vortex in an Inertial Microfluidic Device" by Papautsky and co-authors Xiao Wang, UC doctoral student, and Jian Zhou, research associate, a new concept for separation of rare cells, such as prostate cancer cells or circulating tumor cells, using microfluidics, is detailed.
"Last year we showed we can selectively isolate prostate cancer cells, but only by running small sample volumes one at a time. Now we show that we can do this continuously," Papautsky said. "This is exciting because it allows for an entire blood draw to be processed, in continuous matter, in a shorter period of time."
These blood draws can be used to identify tumor cells for diagnostic or prognostic purposes. "Our approach is based purely on size. It doesn't rely on antibodies, which is important because not all cancer cells express antigens. So, if the cancer cells are, let's say, larger than 20 microns, we'll extract them," he explained.
The most common approach for looking for these circulating tumor cells is via a system that uses a selection using antibodies to detect antigens. "We could also use our device to prepare samples for systems that use antibody-based selection." This combined approach could potentially help reduce occurrence of false positives while significantly increasing the accuracy of the antibody-based tests.
Another area in which this device could be useful is in working with cell cultures. "If you have a mixture of multiple cells where some cells are small and other cells are big, we could separate these cell populations very easily," Papautsky explained. "Anytime you need to separate based on size, we can do it using inertial microfluidics."
The advantage of inertial microfluidics in cell separation is that it can be done easily and without cumbersome equipment. This research is leading to an entirely new generation of testing capabilities which particularly lend themselves to direct use in the field and in physicians' offices in just about any country and any economic setting.