Nanoscale device can capture and release tumour cells

1 min read

Scientists have reported a new nanoscale Velcro-like device that captures and releases tumour cells that have broken away from primary tumours and are circulating in the bloodstream.

Developed at the RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Japan, and the University of California, Los Angeles, this new nanotechnology could be used for cancer diagnosis and give insight into the mechanisms of how cancer spreads throughout the body.

According to a statement, the device provides a non-invasive alternative to biopsy, the current method for diagnosis of metastatic cancer.

It could enable doctors to detect tumour cells that circulate in cancer patients’ blood well before they subsequently colonise as tumours in other organs. The device is also said to enable researchers to keep the tumour cells alive and subsequently study them.

The device was developed by a team led by Hsiao-hua Yu from the RIKEN Advanced Science Institute in Japan and Hsian-Rong Tseng from the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in research published online today in the journal Advanced Materials.

Similar cell-capture devices have been reported but this technology is claimed to be unique in that it is capable of catching the tumour cells with great efficiency and releasing them with great cell viability.

Blood is passed through the device like a filter that contains a molecule capable of adhering to tumour cells such as Velcro and separating them with efficiency ranging from 40 per cent to 70 per cent.

The cancer cells are retained by tiny temperature-responsive polymer brushes inside the device.

At 37oC, these polymer brushes stick to the tumour cells, but when cooled to 4oC, they release them, allowing scientists to examine the cells. 

‘Until now, most devices have demonstrated the ability to capture circulating tumour cells with high efficiency. However, it is equally important to release these captured cells, to preserve and study them in order to obtain insightful information. This is the big difference with our device,’ said Hsiao-hua Yu, who led the team that developed the technique to coat the device with polymer brushes.