Microfluidic Lab-on-a-Chip Detects Oral Cancer Marker in Minutes

Using a microfluidic device designed to capture and enrich cells from biological samples, a research team at The University of Texas at Austin has developed a test that can detect an important early marker for oral squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for more than 90 percent of oral cancers. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide and is difficult to detect early enough to treat successfully.

John McDevitt, Ph.D., led the research team that developed this microfluidic cell capture and interrogate device. The research appears in the journal Lab on a Chip.

The device is simple in design and use. The key component is an etched membrane that gently captures cells in biological fluids, such as saliva, flowing through microfluidic channels. Once captured on the membrane, the cells are exposed to a solution containing fluorescently labeled antibodies that bind specifically to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein found on the surface of tumors removed from 90 percent of oral cell carcinoma patients. Labeled cells, that is, those with EGFR, are readily visible using a standard fluoresence microscope. The entire assay takes less than 10 minutes to complete.

Research by other investigators has demonstrated that EGFR is present on cells during the early stages of tumor development. In addition, an EGFR-targeted antibody has been approved to treat oral squamous cell carcinoma, although the drug is not used widely to treat this form of cancer because of the difficulty in determining which patients would benefit from its use. With further development, this microfluidic device could provide the means for identifying such patients rapidly and inexpensively. The investigators note that this device should be suitable for rapidly measuring any tumor cell-surface biomarker.

This work is detailed in the paper “Cell-based sensor for analysis of EGFR biomarker expression in oral cancer.” An abstract of this paper is available through PubMed. View abstract.


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