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Circulating tumour cells (CTCs) are cancer cells shed from a primary tumour which intravasate into the blood stream and have the potential to extravasate into distant tissues, seeding metastatic lesions. As such, they can offer important insight into cancer progression with their presence generally associated with a poor prognosis. The detection and enumeration of CTCs is, therefore, critical to guiding clinical decisions during treatment and providing information on disease state. CTC isolation has been investigated using a plethora of methodologies, of which immunomagnetic capture and microfluidic size-based filtration are the most impactful to date. However, the isolation and detection of CTCs from whole blood comes with many technical barriers, such as those presented by the phenotypic heterogeneity of cell surface markers, with morphological similarity to healthy blood cells, and their low relative abundance (∼1 CTC/1 billion blood cells). At present, the majority of reported methods dissociate CTC isolation from detection, a workflow which undoubtedly contributes to loss from an already sparse population. This review focuses on developments wherein isolation and detection have been integrated into a single-step, microfluidic configuration, reducing CTC loss, increasing throughput, and enabling an on-chip CTC analysis with minimal operator intervention. Particular attention is given to immune-affinity, microfluidic CTC isolation, coupled to optical, physical, and electrochemical CTC detection (quantitative or otherwise).

Original publication




Journal article


Sensors and Diagnostics

Publication Date