Motion microscopy for label-free detection of circulating breast tumor cells

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Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cancer cells that have been shed from a primary tumor and circulate in the bloodstream during progression of cancer. They may thus serve as circulating biomarkers that can predict, diagnose and guide therapy. Moreover, phenotypic and genotypic analysis of CTCs can facilitate prospective assessment of mutations and enable personalized treatment. A number of methodologies based on biological and physical differences between circulating tumor and non-tumor cells have been developed over the past few years. However, these methods did not have sufficient sensitivity or specificity. In this work, a remote analysis protocol was designed using motion microscopy that amplifies cellular micro motions in a captured video by re-rendering small motions to generate extreme magnified visuals to detect dynamic motions that are not otherwise visible by naked eye. Intriguingly, motion microscopy demonstrated fluctuations around breast tumor cells, which we referred to herein as cellular trail. Phenomena of cellular trail mostly emerged between 0.5 and 1.5 Hz on amplified video images. Interestingly, cellular trails were associated with cell surface proteins and flow rates rather than mitochondrial activity. Moreover, cellular trails were present only around circulating tumor cells from individuals with breast cancer under conditions of 20–30 μm/s and 0.5–1.5 Hz. Thus, motion microscopy based CTC detection method can offer a valuable supplementary diagnostic tool for assessment of drug efficacy and identifying physical characteristics of tumor cells for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112131
JournalBiosensors and Bioelectronics
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.


  • Breast cancer
  • Circulating tumor cells
  • Computational tool
  • Microfluidic system
  • Motion microscopy
  • Vibration


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