A microfluidic device the size of two quarters has the ability to catch and release circulating tumor cells (CTCs) — cancer cells that circulate in a cancer patient's blood. Such a device could lead to earlier detection of primary tumors and metastasis, as well as determine the effectiveness of treatment — all through a simple, noninvasive blood test.

The lab on a chip is notable for its ability to not only capture tumor cells circulating in the blood, but to “release” those cells as well. The microfluidic device achieves two key standards by which the success of CTC devices is measured: high capture efficiency and high selectivity. Capture efficiency refers to the percentage of CTCs that the device collects. Selectivity measures how well it rejects unwanted cells, such as red and white blood cells.

The device catches and releases circulating tumor cells. (Credit: Lehigh)

The rectangular chip — smaller than a few square centimeters and using as little as a few milliliters of blood — is made of the polymer PDMS. The chip's key feature is a tiny flow channel on a hierarchically designed pad that is optimized to capture tumor cells from the blood flowing across it.

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