Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have a great potential as indicators of metastatic disease that may help physicians improve cancer prognostication, treatment and patient outcomes. Heterogeneous marker expression as well as the complexity of current antibody-based isolation and analysis systems highlights the need for alternative methods. In this work, we use a microfluidic Vortex device that can selectively isolate potential tumor cells from blood independent of cell surface expression. This system was adapted to interface with three protein-marker-free analysis techniques: (i) an in-flow automated image processing system to enumerate cells released, (ii) cytological analysis using Papanicolaou (Pap) staining and (iii) fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) targeting the ALK rearrangement. In-flow counting enables a rapid assessment of the cancer-associated large circulating cells in a sample within minutes to determine whether standard downstream assays such as cytological and cytogenetic analyses that are more time consuming and costly are warranted. Using our platform integrated with these workflows, we analyzed 32 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and 22 breast cancer patient samples, yielding 60 to 100% of the cancer patients with a cell count over the healthy threshold, depending on the detection method used: respectively 77.8% for automated, 60-100% for cytology, and 80% for immunostaining based enumeration.
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