Pleural fluid extracted from the lungs is often screened for cancer, but traditional cytopathology requires time consuming preparation that slows down diagnosis and costs a great deal of money. UCLA researchers have developed a new high speed deformability cytometer that can screen cells by squeezing them individually and measuring how their shape responds to the applied pressure.
Artist’s depiction of a cell being squeezed in a high-speed fluid flow (top). Mechanical properties can be gleaned by watching a water balloon hit a wall (middle) and a cell hit a wall of fluid (bottom).
The system was tested with 119 patients pleural fluid samples and was able to sort through more than a thousand cells a second with impressive confidence.
From the study abstract in Science Translational Medicine:
The DC scoring system classified 63% of the samples into two high-confidence regimes with 100% positive predictive value or 100% negative predictive value, and achieved an area under the curve of 0.86. This performance is suitable for a prescreening role to focus cytopathologist analysis time on a smaller fraction of difficult samples. Diagnosis of samples that present a challenge to cytology was also improved. Samples labeled as “atypical cells,” which require additional time and follow-up, were classified in high-confidence regimes in 8 of 15 cases. Further, 10 of 17 cytology-negative samples corresponding to patients with concurrent cancer were correctly classified as malignant or negative, in agreement with 6-month outcomes. This study lays the groundwork for broader validation of label-free quantitative biophysical markers for clinical diagnoses of cancer and inflammation, which could help to reduce laboratory workload and improve clinical decision-making.