Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Cancer research is centered on the discovery of new biomarkers that could unlock the obscurities behind the mechanisms that cause cancer or those associated with its spread (i.e., metastatic disease). Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have emerged as attractive biomarkers for the management of many cancer-related diseases due primarily to the ease of securing them from a simple blood draw. However, their rarity (~1 CTC per mL of whole blood) makes enrichment analytically challenging. Microfluidic systems are viewed as exquisite platforms for the clinical analysis of CTCs due to their ability to be used in an automated fashion, minimizing sample loss and contamination. This has formed the basis of the reported research, which focused on the development of microfluidic systems for CTC analysis. The system reported herein consisted of a modular design and targeted the analysis of CTCs using pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) as the model disease for determining the utility of the system. The system was composed of 3 functional modules; (i) a thermoplastic CTC selection module consisting of high aspect ratio (30 µm x 150 µm) channels; (ii) an impedance sensor module for label-less CTC counting; and (iii) a staining and imaging module for phenotype identification of selected CTCs. The system could exhaustively process 7.5 mL of blood in <45 min with CTC recoveries >90% directly from whole blood. In addition, significantly reduced assay turnaround times (8 h to 1.5 h) was demonstrated. We also show the ability to detect KRAS gene mutations from CTCs enriched by the microfluidic system. As a proof-of-concept, the ability to identify KRAS point mutations using a PCR/LDR/CE assay from as low as 10 CTCs enriched by the integrated microfluidic system was demonstrated. Finally, the clinical utility of the polymer-based microfluidic device for the analysis of circulating multiple myeloma cells (CMMCs) was demonstrated as well. Parameters such as translational velocity and recovery of CMMCs were optimized and found to be 1.1 mm/s and 71%, respectively. Also demonstrated was on-chip immunophenotyping and clonal testing of CMMCs, which has been reported to be prognostically significant. Further, a pilot study involving 26 patients was performed using the polymer microfluidic device with the aim of correlating the number of CMMCs with disease activity. An average of 347 CMMCs/mL of whole blood was recovered from blood volumes of approximately 0.5 mL.



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Committee Chair

Soper, Steven

Included in

Chemistry Commons