Recent advances in microfluidic technologies for circulating tumor cells: enrichment, single-cell analysis, and liquid biopsy for clinical applications
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) detach from primary or metastatic lesions and circulate in the peripheral blood, which is considered to be the cause of distant metastases. CTC analysis in the form of liquid biopsy, enumeration and molecular analysis provide significant clinical information for cancer diagnosis, prognosis and therapeutic strategies. Despite the great clinical value, CTC analysis has not yet entered routine clinical practice due to lack of efficient technologies to perform CTC isolation and single-cell analysis. Taking the rarity and inherent heterogeneity of CTCs into account, reliable methods for CTC isolation and detection are in urgent demand for obtaining valuable information on cancer metastasis and progression from CTCs. Microfluidic technology, featuring microfabricated structures, can precisely control fluids and cells at the micrometer scale, thus making itself a particularly suitable method for rare CTC manipulation. Besides the enrichment function, microfluidic chips can also realize the analysis function by integrating multiple detection technologies. In this review, we have summarized the recent progress in CTC isolation and detection using microfluidic technologies, with special attention to emerging direct enrichment and enumeration in vivo. Further, few insights into single CTC molecular analysis are also demonstrated. We have provided a review of potential clinical applications of CTCs, ranging from early screening and diagnosis, tumor progression and prognosis, treatment and resistance monitoring, to therapeutic evaluation. Through this review, we conclude that the clinical utility of CTCs will be expanded as the isolation and analysis techniques are constantly improving.