Sydney: Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney have created a novel tool that enables doctors to skip invasive biopsy operations and to track the effectiveness of treatment by detecting and analysing cancer cells from blood samples.
More than 1,50,000 Australians are diagnosed with cancer each year, making it one of the top causes of illness and death in the country. Surgery is frequently required for a conclusive diagnosis in those who have cancer suspicions, especially when the cancer is in an organ like the liver, colon, or kidney.
Professor Majid Warkifrom the UTS School of Biomedical Engineering said getting a biopsy can cause discomfort to patients, as well as an increased risk of complications due to surgery and higher costs, but an accurate cancer diagnosis is vital to effective treatment.
“Managing cancer through the assessment of tumour 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,” he said.
The Static Droplet Microfluidic device is able to rapidly detect circulating tumour cells that have broken away from a primary tumour and entered the bloodstream.
The device uses a unique metabolic signature of cancer to differentiate tumour cells from normal blood cells.
The study, Rapid metabolomic screening of cancer cells via high-throughput static droplet microfluidics, has just been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
“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,” said Professor Warkiani.
“A single tumour cell can exist among billions of blood cells in just one millilitre of blood, making it very difficult to find. The new detection technology has 38,400 chambers capable of isolating and classifying the number of metabolically active tumour cells,” he said.
Once the tumour cells are identified with the device, they can undergo genetic and molecular analysis, which can aid in the diagnosis and classification of cancer and inform personalised treatment plans.
Circulating tumour cells are also precursors of metastasis – where cancer migrates to distant organs – which is the cause of 90 per cent of cancer-associated deaths. Studying these cells may provide insights into the biology of cancer metastasis, which can inform the development of new treatments.
Existing liquid biopsy technologies are time-consuming, and expensive and rely on skilled operators, limiting their application in clinical settings.
This new technology is designed for integration into research and clinical labs without relying on high-end equipment and trained operators. This will enable doctors to diagnose and monitor cancer patients in a practical and cost-effective manner.
The UTS research team has filed a provisional patent for the Static Droplet Microfluidic device and has plans to commercialise the product.