A Blood Test for Brain Tumors

Advances in microfluidic technologies and molecular profiling have propelled the rapid growth and interest in achieving a ‘liquid biopsy’ in cancer. As malignant tumors grow, they will aggressively invade surrounding tissue due to rapidly dividing cancer cells. The tumor is nourished by an ample blood supply that provides an avenue for these cells to enter the peripheral blood stream. As these cancer cells are multiplying, individual circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are released at very low numbers (1 in a billion), but are highly desirable due to their molecular cargo. Larger aggregates or clusters of circulating tumor cells are thought to break off from the most aggressive cancers and can also be found in the blood. In addition to these rare circulating tumor cells and clusters, billions of tiny (~nm) particles from the tumor will evade the blood stream, referred to as extracellular vesicles, which also contain genetic information about the tumor. Through a collaborative effort between bioengineers, biologists, and clinicians, my laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed microfluidic devices to isolate and characterize these rare circulating biomarkers from whole blood. Data from these devices will be presented with a focus on our recent effort to characterize CTCs and extracellular vesicles from the blood of patients with highly aggressive brain tumors. Patients were monitored throughout treatment, from their initial diagnosis to end of treatment. Through the microfluidic isolation of blood based biomarkers from patients, our goal is to obtain complementary data to the current standard of care to help better guide treatment and identify new biomarkers and putative therapeutic targets.

Professor Stott is a Mechanical Engineer that has been working at the interface of technology, imaging and medicine. She has an extensive background in microfluidics, optics, tissue engineering, biopreservation, with a focus on their applications in clinical medicine and cell biology. As a postdoctoral fellow, she co-invented the herringbone circulating tumor cell chip (HBCTC-Chip) a device that can successfully capture cancer cells circulating in the blood of cancer patients. The Stott Laboratory continues to isolate rare cancer cells from blood, but has also expanded to develop new technologies for the isolation of tumor-specific extracellular vesicles. Manipulating fluidic flows for isolation and separation of biological components has been a hallmark of her work and recent efforts utilize nanofluidics to separate nucleic acids based on size. The overriding goal of the Dr. Stott’s work is to use these technologies and techniques to improve patient lives through early diagnosis and a greater understanding of how cancer spreads and kills.  Dr. Stott has a particular interest in brain tumors and the potential impact of a blood biopsy for adult and pediatric patients. Dr. Stott has 11 patents issued or pending, and her research has been highlighted in Nature, Science, ABC News, CNN, MIT Technology Review and many other news outlets.