Flow-based immunomagnetic enrichment of circulating tumor cells from diagnostic leukapheresis product

Michiel Stevens*, Anouk Mentink, Frank A.W. Coumans, Eshwari Dathathri, Khrystany T. Isebia, Jaco Kraan, Ronald de Wit, John W.M. Martens, Leon W.M.M. Terstappen

*Corresponding author for this work

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The clinical utility of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) is hampered by the low number of cells detected. Diagnostic leukapheresis (DLA) offers a solution but, due to the observed non-specific binding and clumping, processing of DLA samples using the CellSearch system only allows for the processing of aliquots consisting of ~ 2% of the total DLA sample per test. Here, we introduce a flow enrichment target capture Halbach-array (FETCH)-based separation method in combination with a DNase preprocessing step to capture CTCs from larger fractions of DLA products without clumping. To evaluate the FETCH method, we processed peripheral blood samples from 19 metastatic castration-naïve prostate cancer (mCNPC) patients with CellSearch, and processed 2% aliquots of leukapheresis samples from the same patients with CellSearch as well as FETCH with or without DNase preprocessing. Using 2% aliquots from six patients, the use of FETCH with fewer immunomagnetic epithelial cellular adhesion molecule (EpCAM) conjugated ferrofluids was tested, whereas 20% aliquots from four patients were used to evaluate the processing of 10-fold larger DLA samples using FETCH. Results show that the cell clumping normally seen after immunomagnetic enrichment of DLA material was greatly reduced with the use of DNase pretreatment, while the number of CTCs detected was not affected. The number of CTCs detected in 2% aliquots of DLA using FETCH was unchanged compared to CellSearch and did not decrease when using down to 10% of the volume of immunomagnetic anti-EpCAM ferrofluids normally used in a CellSearch test, whereas the number of co-enriched white blood cells reduced a median 3.2-fold. Processing of a 20% aliquot of DLA with FETCH resulted in a 14-fold increase in CTCs compared to the processing of 2% aliquots of DLA using CellSearch and a total 42-fold median increase in CTCs compared to peripheral-blood CellSearch.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular oncology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 18 Jan 2024


  • circulating tumor cells
  • diagnostic leukapheresis
  • flow enrichment
  • magnetic enrichment


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