• Circulating tumor cells;
  • Dielectrophoresis;
  • Field-flow fractionation;
  • Tumor


The application of dielectrophoretic field-flow fractionation (depFFF) to the isolation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from clinical blood specimens was studied using simulated cell mixtures of three different cultured tumor cell types with peripheral blood. The depFFF method can not only exploit intrinsic tumor cell properties so that labeling is unnecessary but can also deliver unmodified, viable tumor cells for culture and/or all types of molecular analysis. We investigated tumor cell recovery efficiency as a function of cell loading for a 25 mm wide × 300 mm long depFFF chamber. More than 90% of tumor cells were recovered for small samples but a larger chamber will be required if similarly high recovery efficiencies are to be realized for 10 mL blood specimens used CTC analysis in clinics. We show that the factor limiting isolation efficiency is cell–cell dielectric interactions and that isolation protocols should be completed within ∼15 min in order to avoid changes in cell dielectric properties associated with ion leakage.