A device that spots breakaway cancer cells could help cut follow-up diagnosis times from months to weeks, and speed up treatment plans.

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney have spent the past couple of years developing the Static Droplet Microfluidic Device, a cancer dialysis technology that can find cells that have made their way across a patient’s bloodstream after breaking off from a host cancer cell.

The new device is also less invasive and removes the need for needle biopsies.

Majid Warkiani, a professor at the UTS School of Biomedical Engineering, said the device will reduce the the time it takes for check-ups to monitor the efficacy of the treatment.

“Typically the follow-up for patients in hospital is every two to three months,” he said.

“With this type of technology we could do follow-ups at much faster intervals.”

Follow-ups could be reduced from months to weeks, he added, which can give patients more time to be given the right treatment.

The device is designed to identify the genetics of solid cancer tumours found in cancers such as breast cancer.

It is similar to a plastic cartridge which works by getting a sample of blood from a patient to detect harmful cells.

“In stage one you isolate those cancer cells,” Warkiani said.

We could essentially get a better picture of the cancer and how dynamically it’s evolving compared to the traditional imaging approaches

“In the next stage, you are injecting [the blood] into this device, to identify… cancerous cells from non-cancerous cells.”

Over 150,000 Australians are diagnosed with cancer every year. The disease is the leading cause of death in the country.

Warkiani said the microfluidic device can give clinicians better ways to manage treatment options.

“With that, we could essentially get a better picture of the cancer and how dynamically it’s evolving compared to the traditional imaging approaches,” he added.

The device will also make cancer screening and detection more patient friendly.

Patients provide either a blood or urine sample which will be used to conduct liquid biopsy testing using the device.

“Repetitive needle biopsies are not feasible. You need better ways to get information,” Warkiani said.

“That is why these blood-based type tests, are perfect. They are accessible, they are non-invasive, and if you have a technology to get the information out from blood it’s much better than putting in needles repetitively.”

Cancerous cells can often remerge despite the stages of chemotherapy or radiation provided to patients.

This device can also improve detection of tumour cells that can come back after surgery.

Image supplied by Professor Majid Warkiani