Microfluidics detects cancer with nanotubes
R Colin Johnson
3/29/2011 1:54 PM EDT
PORTLAND, Ore.—A Microfluidic device created by a pair of professors from MIT and Harvard Medical School uses an internal detector studded with tiny carbon nanotubes to detect individual cancer cells in blood samples containing billions of healthy cells. About the size of a dime, the microfluidic sensor can also be functionalized to detect viruses as small as 40 nanometers
MIT professor Brian Wardle and Harvard Medical School professor Mehmet Toner say the microfluidic device should enable low-cost tests for diagnoses in-the-field by untrained personnel.
Previous prototypes used silicon posts as detectors—by attaching cancer antibodies to them—but even in a field of thousands of silicon posts, individual cancer cells could sometimes get through the microfluidic channels without encountering an antibody. The new design solves that problem by composing the posts out of hollow nanotube, thereby increasing the likelihood of detecting single cells by over eight times, according to Wardle and Toner.
The MIT/Harvard microfluidic detectors will flow blood samples through a field of up to 100 billion carbon nanotubes, enabling it to trap suspect cells of nearly any size—from micron-sized cancer cells to tiny viruses. Next, the researchers say they will redesign the microfluidic device to provide on-the-spot HIV diagnoses.
The first commercial versions of the MIT/Harvard microfluidic detector will take about two years to come to market, according to the researchers.
Posts just 30 microns in diameter are fashioned from bundles of hollow carbon nanotubes that can trap individual cancer cells as they flow through a microfluidic cancer detetor.
Image Source: Brian Wardle/MIT.