Using the jellyfish – and its tentacles equipped with repeating patterns of sticky structures -- for inspiration, researchers have built a microchip coated with long strands of repeating DNA sequences that bind to specific proteins on cancer cells as they float by in the blood stream.
"What most people don't realize is that it is the metastasis that kills, not the primary tumor," says study author Jeffrey Karp at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Our device has the potential to catch these cells in the act with its 'tentacles' before they may seed a new tumor in a distant organ."
The key was making the three-dimensional DNA strands long, like tentacles, and arranging them in a herringbone pattern inspired by the repeating patterns of sticky structures on the jellyfish,
IEEE Spectrum explains. And unlike previous methods, the device can also easily release the cells so that they can be studied in the lab.
The device could diagnose and monitor cancer, provide details on how a tumor responds to treatment, and capture other rare cells in the blood, such as viruses, bacteria, and even fetal cells.
The work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
Image: J. Fang