Subra Suresh - New way to model sickle cell behavior

Acoustic device can rapidly isolate circulating tumor cells from patient blood samples.
Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
April 6, 2015

Cancer cells often break free from their original locations and circulate through the bloodstream, allowing them to form new tumors elsewhere in the body. Detecting these cells could give doctors a new way to predict whether patientsí tumors will metastasize, or monitor how they are responding to treatment, but finding these extremely rare cells has proven challenging because there might be only one to 10 such cells in a 1-milliliter sample of a patientís blood.

A team of engineers from MIT, Penn State University, and Carnegie Mellon University is developing a novel way to isolate these cells: using sound waves to separate them from blood cells.

Their new cell-sorting device is 20 times faster than the original version that they first reported last year, approaching the speed that would be necessary to make it useful for testing patient blood samples. The researchers have also demonstrated that the device can successfully capture circulating tumor cells from patient samples, which could enable many clinical applications as well as fundamental research on how these cells escape from their original tumor site.

Ming Dao, a principal research scientist in MITís Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon and, at MIT, the Vannevar Bush Professor Emeritus of Engineering and a former dean of engineering; and Tony Jun Huang, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, are senior authors of a paper describing the device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of April 6.

The research team also includes the lead author, Peng Li, a postdoc at Penn State; Zhangli Peng, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame; and Joseph Drabick, a professor of medicine at Penn Stateís Hershey Cancer Institute, among others.