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ASCO: Silicon Biosystems Shows Off its DEPArray Technology

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The cancer research community has begun to study circulating tumor cells — cells that roam free of tumors and float through the bloodstream — and what they can tell a clinician about a patient's prognosis or possible metastasis. The problem is finding these fairly rare cells in the blood and sorting them from the rest of the molecules in a sample. Instrument manufacturer Silicon Biosystems thinks it has the solution. The company's president and general manager of US operations, Bob Proulx, was on hand at the ASCO exhibition hall to showcase the DEPArray Platform, a new technology which the company says can be used to find and separate circulating tumor cells from blood samples with 100 percent purity. This cell microarray platform uses dielectrophoretic cages that can trap and separate out single cells from a blood sample. Once the cells are separated, they can be looked at under a microscope one by one and a researcher can determine which cells are circulating tumor cells and set them aside for further study. Proulx tells Cancer Minute that a clinician could look at variations in the cells to see if they would be susceptible to treatment, or to monitor the number of tumor cells to track a cancer's progress. The technology can even be used to help in drug discovery. Right now, Proulx says, the technology is fairly new, and as such is only for use in the research or drug discovery settings. The company plans to go to FDA for permission to sell it to clinicians for use on patients, but that's still a few years away, Proulx adds. The current throughput is about two to two-and-a-half hours per sample, though the machine can yield multiple groups of cells in one pass — up to 12 to 18 analyzable groups of cells — and the company hopes to cut that throughput time to about one-and-a-half hours by year's end. The current cost is $425,000 per machine in the US, with the consumables device priced at $325. That price is likely to go down as the machine gets smaller and faster, Proulx adds, and the company hopes to be able to develop a benchtop version as it refines the technology.

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