More than 90% of cancer related deaths are caused by metastasis, the spread of cancer to body organs away from primary site of tumour. Scientists have long known that millions of cancer cells that shed off from tumours daily and enter the blood circulation (circulating tumour cells; CTCs) are primary vehicles of this spread. One intriguing feature of CTCs is that about 5% of them circulate as clumps/clusters of 2-100 cells (CTC clusters) and research has shown that CTC clusters have manyfold increased potential to cause metastasis compared to the single CTCs. The quest to understand CTC cluster biology has thus attracted much attention in recent years. QMNC researchers Dr Muhammad Umer, Prof Nam-Trung Nguyen, and Dr Muhammad J. A. Shiddiky have published an article in the prestigious journal “Biotechnology Advances” (I.F: 11.452). In this article, Umer et al. have reviewed current knowledge about the biology of CTC clusters, their potential as biomarkers for cancer diagnosis and monitoring, as well as success and challenges in their in vitro culture. A comprehensive discussion on challenges associated with isolation of CTC clusters is also included. Moreover, this article also provides a detailed overview of microfluidic platforms (technologies that handle samples at submillimeter scale) that have so far been developed for isolation of CTC clusters.
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