Using sound waves to detect rare cancer cells

April 8, 2015

Cancer cells often break free from their original locations and circulate through the bloodstream, allowing them to form new tumors elsewhere in the body. Detecting these cells could give doctors a new way to predict whether patients’ tumors will metastasize, or monitor how they are responding to treatment, but finding these extremely rare cells has proven challenging because there might be only one to 10 such cells in a 1-milliliter sample of a patient’s blood.

A team of engineers from MIT, Penn State University, and Carnegie Mellon University is developing a novel way to isolate these cells: using sound waves to separate them from blood cells.

Their new cell-sorting device is 20 times faster than the original version that they first reported last year, approaching the speed that would be necessary to make it useful for testing patient blood samples. The researchers have also demonstrated that the device can successfully capture circulating tumor cells from patient samples, which could enable many clinical applications as well as fundamental research on how these cells escape from their original tumor site.

See the MIT News Office for more.

 

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