The Science

Circulating Tumour Cells:

The illustration below shows how CTCs are shed from a primary tumour into the bloodstream, eventually leading to the formation of a secondary tumour through metastasis. CTCs can be used as a biomarker for early cancer detection, and to monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatments.

Our system detects circulating tumour cells (CTCs) present in a sample of blood. Blood cells are streamed through a microfluidic device where they are probed with high frequency sound waves and a laser. The cancer cells can be differentiated from normal blood cells due to their unique physical and biochemical properties.


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Credit: Chaffer, C.L., and Weinberg, R.A. (2011). A perspective on cancer cell metastasis. Science 331, 1559–1564.

The invasive cancer (A) invades the blood vessels (B), then spread throughout the body via these vessels (C). Eventually the cancer cells escape the vessels and invade a distant organ (D), survive at the new microenvironment (E) and then form a new secondary tumor (F).