Droplet microfluidic technique for isolation and culture of cancer stem cells

Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a small subpopulation (often 1-3%) within the tumor and are capable to regenerate malignant cells. It is believed that this small subpopulation is responsible for forming tumors. They are highly resistant to drugs and extremely tumorigenic and metastatic. Therefore, a better understanding of these cancer stem cells, also called tumour-initiating cells, can lead to developing more effective cancer therapy methods and formulations. The CSCs also possess characteristics similar to normal stem cells such as differentiation into various cell types. Despite their significance, they are not well understood. The CSCs are difficult to isolate that makes them even harder to study.  

Recently, in a study published in the Advanced Science journal, a group of researchers has employed microfluidics and reported a label-free microfluidic chip to isolate and culture cancer stem cells.

“Our one-single-cell microencapsulation approach for CSC isolation and culture may be valuable for understanding cancer biology and etiology and for facilitating the development of CSC-targeted effective therapies to fight against cancer.”, the authors explained.


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The research team took a bioinspired approach for isolation and culturing the cancer stem cells. Inspired by colony formation in prehatching embryos, they generated core-shell droplets (double emulsions) to encapsulate cancer cells. They used a microfluidic droplet generator chip to encapsulate the cancer cells in an alginate-based hydrogel core (~206 µm). It was shown that the droplet microfluidic device did not affect the viability of the cells since 90% cell viability was reported.

By observing the capability of colony formation of the cells, they concluded that the cancer stem cells take up ~3-5% of the cancer cell population. Moreover, RNA sequencing of the colonies confirmed the stemness of the cancer stem cells. Furthermore, they could show the cross-tissue differentiation capability of these cancer stem cells into various lineages such as endothelial and cardiac.  

The droplet microfluidic approach was promising in isolating and analysis of the cancer stem cells. It is envisioned to pave the way for CSC-targetted medicine by giving a better understanding of the biology of these cells.  


Read the original research article: Bioinspired One Cell Culture Isolates Highly Tumorigenicand Metastatic Cancer Stem Cells Capable of Multilineage Differentiation


Pouriya Bayat

Pouriya Bayat

Pouriya is a microfluidic production engineer at uFluidix. He received his B.Sc. and M.A.Sc. both in Mechanical Engineering from Isfahan University of Technology and York University, respectively. During his master's studies, he had the chance to learn the foundations of microfluidic technology at ACUTE Lab where he focused on designing microfluidic platforms for cell washing and isolation. Upon graduation, he joined uFluidix to even further enjoy designing, manufacturing, and experimenting with microfluidic chips. In his free time, you might find him reading a psychology/philosophy/fantasy book while refilling his coffee every half an hour. Is there a must-read book in your mind, do not hesitate to hit him up with your to-read list.

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