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Microfluidic Platforms for Investigating and Isolating Circulating Tumour Cell Clusters, with Dr Sam Au, Imperial College London

Image: Dr Sam Au
Dr Sam Au

Date: 16 January 2019   Time: 15:00 - 16:00

Multicellular aggregates of circulating tumour cells (CTC clusters) are potent initiators of distant organ metastases. Much is still unknown about their a) behaviour in the body, b) value as predictive/prognostic biomarkers and c) potential as therapeutic targets. The study of CTC clusters is hindered by challenges associated with isolating these rare aggregates from blood and observing their behaviour in physiological environments. Here I present microfluidic platforms designed to address both challenges.

To explore the ability of CTC clusters to traverse the microcirculation, we developed organ-on-chip microfluidic devices designed to mimic human capillaries. Over 90% of clusters containing up to 20 cells successfully traversed constrictions under physiological conditions even in whole blood by reversibly reorganizing into single-file chains. These findings suggest that CTC-clusters contribute a greater role to the dissemination of cancer than previously believed and may lead to strategies for combating CTC cluster-initiated metastasis.

To capture viable CTC clusters from blood, we developed a two-stage lab-on-chip platform for isolating CTC clusters out of the circulation based on the greater size and inherent asymmetry of CTC clusters. This technology is capable of the high purity extraction of both large and small clusters with high viabilities by operating under physiological shear stress levels. Altogether, these microfluidic platforms enable the efficient collection of CTC clusters and the ability to study their role in metastasis in more depth than previously possible.

Location:  PP1 People's Palace, Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London