Engineers Invent Acoustic Device that Discovers Cancer Cells

A team of engineers from MIT, Penn State University, and Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a new way to test the blood for hard-to-find cancer cells by utilizing sound waves.

Yes, the days of painful biopsies may soon be a thing of the past.

The engineers have invented an acoustic device that uses sound waves which can identify the exact difference between white blood cells and blood-borne tumor cells.

MIT 2015: Engineers have invented an acoustic device that uses sound waves which can identify the exact difference between white blood cells and blood-borne tumor cells.MIT 2015: Engineers have invented an acoustic device that uses sound waves which can identify the exact difference between white blood cells and blood-borne tumor cells.

Their study has just been published in the April 2015 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While the device works on breast cancer patients, the next step it to test it on other cancer patients.

Their prototype is a small and yet highly advanced microfluidic chip. The chip uses sound waves to seek out circulating tumor cells (CTC) and is 20 times faster than the previous version they made about two years ago.

Probing a patient for cancer will now take about five hours with this new device that entails two acoustic transducers, separated by a tiny channel. When a blood sample is placed on the chip’s channels, they are separated in a natural manner from the sound waves. White cells go to one side and the cancerous cells on the other. A pure distinction is made and the discovery of cancer is identified. If there is no cancer evident, the white cells remain on one side of the chip.

“Using computer modelling, we were able to significantly improve the chip's throughput. With further refinements, this device could enhance our ability to diagnose and treat cancer,” says Dr. Subra Suresh.

“The current gold-standard for finding CTCs requires scientists to tag the cells using antibodies,” he further explains. “Our technique has the added advantage of being label-free, without the need for any tagging that could chemically alter the cells. Our new approach would allow scientists and clinicians to gain more information on cell pathology and cancer metastasis than is currently possible.”

So, will a new sound wave acoustic chip be the big breakthrough in discovery and treating cancer?

The answer of course is yes. This new chip will detect cancer at its very early stages and which could help save lives.

The research team is now seeking ways to make their device affordable for doctors and hospitals and they hope to unveil it for use in the medical world within a few years following more testing on cancer patients.