In 1971 Nixon announced that the U.S. would fund an ambitious “War on Cancer,” and since that year, the U.S. has invested over $200 billion in cancer research. Despite this, we have only seen a 5% drop in the cancer death rate from 1950 to 2005. For years, conventional wisdom has considered size or mass reduction in the cancer as the standard for evaluating successful treatment, giving little thought to possible underlying cellular heterogeneity in the tumor. But in recent years several studies have found significant heterogeneity among cells that were previously treated as essentially copies of each other. Understanding and analyzing this heterogeneity and targeting specific cell subtypes such as cancer-stem cells have great potential for therapeutics. This presents a problem as this heterogeneity is still poorly understood, especially in its behavior in cancer.
With this in mind, we are developing high throughput microfluidic tools for single cell screening of cancer behavior. Our devices utilize a robust hydrodynamic capture scheme that sorts individual cells into separate wells requiring no external pumps or user input. Our systems are capable of measuring drug response, tracking division behavior, and even studying single cell derived spheroids through integration of hydrophobic base layers. Further work is being completed to increase capture rates and throughput of the system, as well as, make our system compatible with standard laboratory practices and robotics high throughput libraries.