A group of University of Michigan chemical engineering and oncology researchers devised a blood test technique that uses the principals of a labyrinth to isolate rare cancer cells for cleaner, more-accurate analysis.
A clinical trial using the new technique to determine the effectiveness of treatment for breast cancer already is underway.
According to a report on the study in Michigan News, the new system uses a chip reminiscent of the garden labyrinths that decorated Renaissance palaces and religious establishments. The unique labyrinthine shape of the tube within the chip helps physicians determine better options to “plan customized treatment, monitor genetic changes and flag the presence of aggressive cells that are likely to spread the cancer.”
The standard tubes for such blood tests have been in the shape of a spiral. The labyrinth allows for more-efficient separation of cells because of the physics involved with sharp turns – smaller white blood cells are “grabbed” by the corners along the way, leaving a less-contaminated tumor cell sample.
The upshot of the new labyrinth technique is a greater ability to determine the precise nature of drug-resistant cancer stem cells, which can help oncologists develop a more-personalized treatment plan.
A current clinical trial is using the “cleaner” cancer cell samples to test whether blocking a particular immune signaling molecule from enabling cancer stem cells to develop into growth-oriented cells can make progress against an aggressive form of breast cancer.
The study was published this month in the online journal, Cell Systems.