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Sound separates cancer cells from blood samples

Monday, April 6, 2015

Separating circulating cancer cells from blood cells for diagnostic, prognostic and treatment purposes may become much easier using an acoustic separation method and an inexpensive, disposable chip, according to a team of engineers.

"Looking for circulating tumor cells in a blood sample is like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Tony Jun Huang, professor of engineering science and mechanics. "Typically, the CTCs are about one in every one billion blood cells in the sample."

Existing methods of separation use tumor-specific antibodies to bind with the cancer cells and isolate them, but require that the appropriate antibodies be known in advance. Other methods rely on size, deformability or electrical properties. Unlike conventional separation methods that centrifuge for 10 minutes at 3000 revolutions per minute, surface acoustic waves can separate cells in a much gentler way with a simple, low-cost device.