This is another approach to the liquid biopsy that clinical laboratories and pathologists may use to detect cancer less invasively
Screening for cancer usually involves invasive, often painful, costly biopsies to provide samples for diagnostic clinical laboratory testing. But now, scientists at the University of Technology (UTS) in Sydney, Australia, have developed a novel approach to identifying tumorous cells in the bloodstream that uses imaging to cause cells with elevated lactase to fluoresce, according to a UTS news release.
The UTS researchers created a Static Droplet Microfluidic (SDM) device that detects circulating tumor cells (CTC) that have separated from the cancer source and entered the bloodstream. The isolation of CTCs is an intrinsic principle behind liquid biopsies, and microfluidic gadgets can improve the efficiency in which problematic cells are captured.
The University of Technology’s new SDM device could lead the way for very early detection of cancers and help medical professionals monitor and treat cancers.
The UTS researchers published their findings in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics titled, “Rapid Metabolomic Screening of Cancer Cells via High-Throughput Static Droplet Microfluidics.”
“Managing cancer through the assessment of tumor cells in blood samples is far less invasive than taking tissue biopsies. It allows doctors to do repeat tests and monitor a patient’s response to treatment,” explained Majid E. Warkiani, PhD, Professor, School of Biomedical Engineering, UTS, and one of the authors of the study, in a news release. Clinical laboratories and pathologists may soon have a new liquid biopsy approach to detecting cancers. (Photo copyright: University of New South Wales.)
Precision Medicine a Goal of UTS Research
The University of Technology’s new SDM device differentiates tumor cells from normal cells using a unique metabolic signature of cancer that involves the waste product lactate.
“A single tumor cell can exist among billions of blood cells in just one milliliter of blood, making it very difficult to find,” explained Majid E. Warkiani, PhD, a professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering at UTS and one of the authors of the study, in the news release.
“The new [SDM] detection technology has 38,400 chambers capable of isolating and classifying the number of metabolically active tumor cells,” he added.
“In the 1920s, Otto Warburg discovered that cancer cells consume a lot of glucose and so produce more lactate. Our device monitors single cells for increased lactate using pH sensitive fluorescent dyes that detect acidification around cells,” Warkiani noted.
After the SDM device has detected the presence of questionable cells, those cells undergo further genetic testing and molecular analysis to determine the source of the cancer. Because circulating tumor cells are a precursor of metastasis, the device’s ability to identify CTCs in very small quantities can aid in the diagnosis and classification of the cancer and the establishment of personalized treatment plans, a key goal of precision medicine.
The new technology was also designed to be operated easily by medical personnel without the need for high-end equipment and tedious, lengthy training sessions. This feature should allow for easier integration into medical research, clinical laboratory diagnostics, and enable physicians to monitor cancer patients in a functional and inexpensive manner, according to the published study.
“Managing cancer through the assessment of tumor cells in blood samples is far less invasive than taking tissue biopsies. It allows doctors to do repeat tests and monitor a patient’s response to treatment,” stated Warkiani in the press release.
The team have filed for a provisional patent for the device and plan on releasing it commercially in the future.
Other Breakthroughs in MCED Testing
Scientists around the world have been working to develop a simple blood test for diagnosing cancer and creating optimal treatment protocols for a long time. There have been some notable breakthroughs in the advancement of multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, which Dark Daily has covered in prior ebriefings.
In “NHS Trial Analysis Finds That Grail’s Galleri Clinical Laboratory Blood Test Can Detect 50 Cancers and Identify the Location of the Cancer,” we reported how the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) had conducted a trial study of an MCED test developed by a California-based healthcare technology company that could provide a less painful/invasive cancer test experience to UK residents.
And in “University Researchers Develop Microfluidic Device That Partitions Cancer Cells According to Size in Effort to Create a Useful Liquid Biopsy Method,” we covered how researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia had unveiled a diagnostic device that uses microfluidic technology to identify cell types in blood by their size and isolate individual cancer cells from patient blood samples.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer ranks second in the leading causes of death in the US, just behind heart disease. There were 1,603,844 new cancer cases reported in 2020, and 602,347 people died of various cancers that year in the US.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common cancers diagnosed in the US annually include:
- Breast Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Colon and Rectal Cancers
- Kidney Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
Cancer is a force in Australia as well. It’s estimated that 151,000 Australians were diagnosed with cancer in 2021, and that nearly one in two Australians will receive a diagnosis of the illness by the age of 85, according to Cancer Council South Australia.
The population of Australia in 2021 was 25.69 million, compared to the US in the same year at 331.9 million.
The development of the University of Technology’s static droplet microfluidic device is another approach in the use of liquid biopsies as a means to detect cancer less invasively.
More research and clinical studies are needed before the device can be ready for clinical use by anatomic pathology groups and medical laboratories, but its creation may lead to faster diagnosis of cancers, especially in the early stages, which could lead to improved patient outcomes.