A new study, titled "Circulating Tumor Cell Phenotyping via High‐Throughput Acoustic Separation," has now been published showing how sound waves might be useful in detecting cancers. The paper and underlying research data are the results of efforts put forward by researchers from Duke University, MIT, and Nanyang Technological University, as published in the medical journal 'Small.' The science behind the discovery centers around the properties of circulating tumor cells (CTC). Those are minute portions of tumors which break away from the main body and are circulated through the bloodstream. They also contain a lot of information about tumor type, characteristics, and mutations. Ordinarily, cancerous tumors aren't detected until long after those appear in the blood and require a painful biopsy to test. Using sound waves and a small blood draw, the authors of the paper have shown that those CTC can be isolated and analyzed.
Although there is still plenty of work and study that needs to be conducted before the technology can be developed for widespread use, the concept itself is relatively easy to understand. The CTC have a unique structure and set of physical characteristics which causes them to react differently to sound from healthy micro-particles. As a result, sound waves can be used to push the two particles along different pathways, essentially pushing cancer cells down one channel and normal cells up another. The method developed by the scientists, in this case, can accomplish that with 86-percent efficiency and a high rate of flow. They hope to embed the components required to create that divergence into a disposable, cost-effective chip.
Once the cells have been separated into a different channel, a small blood draw could determine the nature of the CTC and the tumor they broke off from. Specifically, the researchers say that it could lead to a relatively simple method for determining if cancer is present in a measurable way, the stage it might be in, and how to approach treatment. Moreover, they claim that it can isolate and detect rarer and more difficult particulates such as CTC clusters. So this could be a relatively big step in the ongoing fight against some types of cancer.