Background and Purpose:

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are relatively rare cells defined as tumor cells circulating in the peripheral blood of patients with solid tumors. Diagnosis utilizing CTCs is expected to help guide decision-making for precision cancer medicine. We developed an automated microcavity array (MCA) system to detect CTCs based on the differences in size and deformability between tumor cells and normal blood cells. Here we evaluated its performance using preclinical spike-in model and blood samples from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients.

Material and method:

The automated MCA system consists of components such as chambered cartridge containing micro metal filter, reagent and waste reservoirs, and peristaltic pump. To evaluate the recovery of CTCs, preclinical experiments using NSCLC cells, NCI-H820, A549, NCI-H441 and NCI-H23 spiked into peripheral whole blood from healthy volunteers were performed. For clinical evaluation, 6 mL of peripheral whole blood was collected from 50 advanced lung cancer patients prior to the initiation of chemotherapy and from 10 healthy donors. Samples were collected in an EDTA-containing tube and were processed within 3 hours of blood draw. Recovered cells on the filter were then fixed, permeabilized, and stained automatically and high-resolution fluorescent images were obtained using fluorescence microscope. We defined CTC as DAPI-positive, cytokeratin-positive and CD45-negative cell.


Results of the preclinical study showed that up to 90% of spiked-in tumor cells were recovered, confirming that the detection sensitivity by this automated device is on par with that by previous manual detection procedure. Demographics of 50 lung cancer patients enrolled in clinical study were as follows: median age 72 (range, 48 to 85); male 66%; stage III/IV 12/88%; NSCLC/SCLC 78/22%. Cells defined as CTC were detected in 2 cases out of 10 healthy volunteers, of which CTC count was 1 and 2 / 6 mL, respectively. Three or more CTCs were detected in 71% of patients with advanced lung cancer (39 out of 50) and five or more CTCs were detected in 52% of patients (26 out of 50) (median CTC count 13.5). Among stage IV NSCLC patients, patients with extrathoracic metastasis tend to have more CTCs than in those with intrathoracic metasitasis (median CTC count, 8 versus 4, p = 0.058). A head-to-head comparison between CellSearch system and our system was conducted in NSCLC patients, showing the superiority of our system (median CTC count, 0 versus 11.25, p = 0.0001, n = 17).


Our results suggest that the automated MCA device has a clinical potential for CTCs diagnosis towards precision medicine in lung cancer. This device also enables higher throughput owing to its automated procedure. Further clinical evaluation including the detection of PD-L1 expression will be performed in an expansion cohort.

Citation Format: Satomi Yagi, Yasuhiro Koh, Hiroaki Akamatsu, Woong Kim, Ayaka Tanaka, Kuninobu Kanai, Atsushi Hayata, Ryota Shibaki, Masayuki Higuchi, Hisashige Kanbara, Takashi Kikuchi, Keiichiro Akamatsu, Masanori Nakanishi, Hiroki Ueda, Nobuyuki Yamamoto. Development of an automated device for size-based enrichment and isolation of circulating tumor cells in lung cancer patients. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2016 Apr 16-20; New Orleans, LA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2016;76(14 Suppl):Abstract nr 2244.