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Detecting cancer with programmable materials

NSF Award:

Reversible Cell Capture and Release for Cell Separation  (University of Connecticut)

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Diagnosing cancer at an early stage and determining effective treatments is challenging. Although circulating tumor cells are a promising biomarker for tumor staging, 1 milliliter of blood from a cancer patient contains billions of normal cells and usually less than 10 circulating tumor cells.

An alternative approach taken by Yong Wang, first at the University of Connecticut and now at Pennsylvania State University, involves a programmable material that uses nucleic acid technologies to separate cancer cells from normal cells. Such materials open the door to detection and separation of rare circulating tumor cells with the promise of advancing cancer diagnosis and therapy.

While several methods detect and separate rare circulating tumor cells, they often experience problems including co-mingling of normal and separated cells and damage to cells during the separation. If separated cells include many normal cells, the analysis will provide a false positive result. If the separated cells are damaged, spread and staging are difficult to estimate. Therefore, a method such as Wang's that provides simple, specific and noninvasive separation of rare circulating tumor cells could help improve cancer outcomes.


Images (1 of )

  • the schematic shows how a dynamic material can catch and release cancer cells
  • non-invasive, programmable cell catch and release
  • fluorescence images of cells during two rounds of catch and release
Programmed catch and release of cancer cells using a dynamic material.
Yong Wang
Cells on the dynamic surface (a). Live (green) and dead (red) cells on the dynamic surface (b).
Yong Wang
Cells fluoresce during two rounds of catch and release.
Yong Wang

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