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Silicon micro device may help diagnose, treat cancer

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For more information, visit the The Virginia Tech’s Microelectromechanical Systems Laboratory.

Fibroblast Cell

Fibroblast cell attachment inside etched features.

A team from ECE's Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) Laboratory has developed a 3-D silicon microstructure that has potential to detect breast cancer cells and to separate cancer cells from other cell types.

The devices consist of arrays of microchambers connected with channels and were fabricated using a single-mask one-pass etching process developed in the laboratory (see GC Matrix). When cultured on the devices, breast cancer cells stuck to the shallow curved walls, but the normal fibroblast cells stretched inside the channels, avoiding the curved walls.


Co-culture of two cell lines.

The fibroblast cells grew on both flat silicon surfaces and inside the microchambers regardless of microchamber depth, according to Masoud Agah, director of the laboratory. The cancer cells, however, typically did not grow on the flat surfaces when there were microchambers having depths of 78 and 88 micrometers.

The microdevices have potential use in diagnosing cancer, determining prognosis, and in testing the reaction of an individual's cancer cells to different drug treatments. Agah is working with Dr. Jeannine Strobl from the Virginia College of Osteaopathic Medicine and Mehdi Nikkhah, an graduate student in mechanical engineering. For more information, visit