Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and has been found to have a significantly higher rate of survival when diagnosed at early stages, before metastasis.
During metastasis, a secondary growth is initiated by circulating tumour cells, CTCs, that shed from the primary tumour into the bloodstream to spread the cancer.
A team of engineering researchers from NYU Abu Dhabi, led by NYUAD Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering Mohammad A. Qasaimeh, has developed a microfluidic platform that is compatible with cutting-edge procedures of atomic force microscopy, AFM.
The developed platform is used to capture CTCs from blood samples of prostate cancer patients, followed by AFM mechanical characterisations of CTCs, at the nanoscale, in search for new metastatic mechano-biomarkers.
While the general lifecycle of CTCs is somewhat recognised, the lifespan and interactions of CTCs while circulating in the bloodstream is still unknown.
CTCs are very rare and hard to isolate from the background of billions of healthy blood cells, and thus their biological and mechanical phenotypes are still to be explored.
The developed new tool allows for isolation and characterisation of CTCs, and so holds the potential to assist in the early detection of cancer. It also can be used as a tool to more effectively track and monitor cancer progression and metastasis.
In the paper titled, 'AFM-compatible Microfluidic Platform for Affinity-based Capture and Nanomechanical Characterisation of Circulating Tumour Cells' published in the 'Microsystems and Nanoengineering' journal, the researchers presented the microfluidic technology they developed to separate CTCs from blood samples for further analysis.
"We expect that this platform could constitute a potentially very powerful tool for cancer diagnosis and prognosis, by identifying CTCs mechanical and biological phenotypes at the single cell level," said Mohammad A. Qasaimeh.
"With slight customisations, the platform can also be adapted to other types of cancers including breast and lung," said the first author of the study and the Research Scientist of Engineering at NYUAD, Muhammedin Deliorman.
The authors hope that using the developed tool, nanomechanical properties of captured CTCs could help in the future to identify aggressive cancer CTCs phenotypes for developing more effective therapies.
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