Biomedical Microdevices

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 595-609

First online:

Microfluidics and cancer: are we there yet?

  • Zhuo ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan
  • , Sunitha NagrathAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan Email author 

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More than two decades ago, microfluidics began to show its impact in biological research. Since then, the field of microfluidics has evolving rapidly. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Microfluidics holds great promise in cancer diagnosis and also serves as an emerging tool for understanding cancer biology. Microfluidics can be valuable for cancer investigation due to its high sensitivity, high throughput, less material-consumption, low cost, and enhanced spatio-temporal control. The physical laws on microscale offer an advantage enabling the control of physics, biology, chemistry and physiology at cellular level. Furthermore, microfluidic based platforms are portable and can be easily designed for point-of-care diagnostics. Developing and applying the state of the art microfluidic technologies to address the unmet challenges in cancer can expand the horizons of not only fundamental biology but also the management of disease and patient care. Despite the various microfluidic technologies available in the field, few have been tested clinically, which can be attributed to the various challenges existing in bridging the gap between the emerging technology and real world applications. We present a review of role of microlfuidcs in cancer research, including the history, recent advances and future directions to explore where the field stand currently in addressing complex clinical challenges and future of it. This review identifies four critical areas in cancer research, in which microfluidics can change the current paradigm. These include cancer cell isolation, molecular diagnostics, tumor biology and high-throughput screening for therapeutics. In addition, some of our lab’s current research is presented in the corresponding sections.


Microfluidics Cancer Cancer diagnostics Circulating tumor cells Tumor biology Bio MEMS Cancer therapeutics