Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia have achieved a major breakthrough in cancer research. They have developed a small device called Static Droplet Microfluidic (SDM) which is able to detect and analyze cancer cells in blood samples.
With the invention of the device, it is therefore not necessary to have a tissue sample – also called a biopsy, which is more or less invasive, depending on where on the body the sample is to be taken.
Detects changes in cells’ metabolism
According to Professor Majid Warkiani, the biopsies necessary so far are uncomfortable for a group of patients, and there is also an increased risk of complications due to operations for some types of tissue samples.
“It is far less invasive to treat cancer by assessing cancer cells in blood samples than to take tissue samples. It allows the doctors to repeat the tests and monitor the patient’s response to the treatment,” he explains.
The tiny device is able to quickly detect cancer cells in the blood as they have detached from the primary tumor and entered the bloodstream. Cancer cells use more glucose and produce more lactic acid (lactate) than healthy cells. Therefore, the device monitors cells for increased lactic acid content using pH-sensitive fluorescent dye, which detects acid formation around the cells.
“A single cancer cell can be found among billions of blood cells in just one milliliter of blood, which makes it very difficult to find. The new technology to detect cancer cells has 38,400 chambers that can isolate and classify the number of metabolically active cancer cells,” says Majid Warkiani.
Saves doctors time and improves diagnosis
There are several advantages to using the new device. First, the procedure is far simpler, faster and cheaper than having to do a biopsy, and it also requires no special skills to operate.
The new technology is designed to be used both in research and in clinical laboratories without the use of either high-tech equipment or trained personnel. In other words, doctors can diagnose and monitor cancer patients in a very convenient and inexpensive way.
The researchers behind it have applied to patent the device’s design and have plans to commercialize the product.