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J Lab Autom. 2013 Dec;18(6):455-68. doi: 10.1177/2211068213494391. Epub 2013 Jul 5.

Circulating tumor cell enrichment based on physical properties.

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1Micro & Nano Integrated Biosystem (MINIBio) Laboratory, Department of Bioengineering and Materials Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA.


The metastatic dissemination and spread of malignant circulating tumor cells (CTCs) accounts for more than 90% of cancer-related deaths. CTCs detach from a primary tumor, travel through the circulatory system, and then invade and proliferate in distant organs. The detection of CTCs from blood has been established for prognostic monitoring and is predictive of patient outcome. Analysis of CTCs could enable the means for early detection and screening in cancer, as well as provide diagnostic access to tumor tissues in a minimally invasive way. The fundamental challenge with analyzing CTCs is the fact that they occur at extremely low concentrations in blood, on the order of one out of a billion cells. Various technologies have been proposed to isolate CTCs for enrichment. Here we focus on antigen-independent approaches that are not limited by specific capture antibodies. Intrinsic physical properties of CTCs, including cell size, deformability, and electrical properties, are reviewed, and technologies developed to exploit them for enrichment from blood are summarized. Physical enrichment technologies are of particular interest as they have the potential to increase yield and enable the analysis of rare CTC phenotypes that may not be otherwise obtained.


antigen-independent; cancer; circulating tumor cells; enrichment; physical properties

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