Ga. Tech researcher helps create device to study cancer

He helped create the "Cluster Chip," which captures groups of dangerous cells and is being tested with patient blood in Massachusetts.

ATLANTA -- Researchers hope a new piece of technology using an old concept could move them closer to finding better ways to understand and treat cancer.

Fatih Sarioglu, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, is part of a team with Massachusetts General Hospital already using a new device with help from patients.

It is called a "Cluster-Chip." Sarioglu says they are using technology and concepts typically used in microprocessors.

The Cluster-Chip works in a similar fashion using the blood of patients.

Sarioglu says metastasis, the process by which cancer spreads, is responsible for most cancer deaths. The new chip works to isolate those dangerous metastatic groups of cells.

"These circulating tumor cells are very rare in blood, maybe one tumor cell in a billion blood cells, and clusters of these cells are even more rare," he explained.

A simple blood sample from a patient is ran through the more than 4,000 parallel trapping paths, with rows of triangular microposts that work to trap cell clusters and allow single cells to pass through.

"This cell wants to go this way, that cell wants to go that way, so they cannot make up their mind, at the end they end up getting captured there," Sarioglu said. The chip can work to capture cell clusters from various cancers.

By capturing the clusters of cells that can lead to the spread of cancer, Sarioglu says they can look for answers to questions like where is a cancer likely spread, and is earlier detection possible.

"People can start studying them, and then we can maybe develop drugs that disassociates the clusters and makes them single cells so that they are less metastatic," he said.

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