Circulating Tumor Cells Dream Team - Stand Up To Cancer

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SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team:
Bioengineering and Clinical Applications of
Circulating Tumor Cell Chip

Grant Term: December 2009−November 2013

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are extremely rare cancer cells that are shed into the blood from primary or metastatic tumors. The SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team generated the prototype Herringbone-CTC-Chip, which allows initial molecular analysis of CTCs and enables pilot clinical trials in cancers of the lung, prostate, breast, and pancreas, as well as melanoma. It also laid the groundwork for the next-generation CTC-iChip.


Cancer cells naturally detach from a primary tumor and can sometimes be found in the blood of cancer patients. These cells, called circulating tumor cells (CTCs), are extremely rare—there is thought to be one for every one billion normal cells. If they were reliably detectable, CTCs could help physicians detect and treat cancer and learn how cancers spread.

The technologies available for detecting CTCs help scientists learn about these cells, but they are not usually sensitive or reliable enough for physicians to use in the clinic to make cancer treatment decisions. This SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team, composed of clinicians, bioengineers, and molecular biologists, developed a novel approach to detecting and isolating CTCs. They used the science of microscopic fluid dynamics to construct a chip with 100 times the sensitivity of existing technologies.

The CTC-Chip is the size of a business card, has channels with a herringbone design, and is coated with material capable of attaching to CTCs while allowing normal blood cells to flow through unimpeded. It offers unprecedented opportunity to detect tumor cells in patients with early-stage cancer, to genetically characterize tumor cells without an invasive biopsy, and to determine responsiveness to targeted cancer drugs.


The top scientists and researchers on the SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, which leads them to great insights upon collaboration. Learn more about the SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team.

Dream Team Members

Daniel A. Haber, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital

Mehmet Toner, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital

Sangeeta N. Bhatia, MD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Principal Investigator

Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD
MD Anderson Cancer Center
Principal Investigator

Bruce E. Johnson, MD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Principal Investigator

Mark G. Kris, MD
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Principal Investigator

Rebecca Douglass
Douglass Charitable Foundation

Jeane Ungerleider
Boston IVF

“[T]here’s been almost a combination of all the discoveries over so many years in terms of our understanding of what triggers cancer, and now for the first time we can translate that into tools to treat cancer.”

Daniel Haber, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital


Stand Up To Cancer’s research projects are designed to foster collaborative, swift translational research. The hallmarks of these efforts include rigorous application and selection procedures, sufficient funding to allow scientists to focus on the objectives of the grant, and reviews by senior scientists every six months. These reviews help the investigators capitalize on the latest findings, address potential roadblocks, and collaboratively evolve as the science requires. Please click below to see summaries of research results for the SU2C Circulating Tumor Cell Dream Team.



Circulating Tumor Cell Clusters Are Oligoclonal Precursors of Breast Cancer Metastasis
Toner M, Haber DA, Maheswaran S, et al. (2014)
Cell 158(5):1110–1122.
Ex Vivo Culture of CTCs: An Emerging Resource to Guide Cancer Therapy
Maheswaran S and Haber DA (2015)
Cancer Research 75(12):2411-2415.
A Microfluidic Device for Label-Free, Physical Capture of Circulating Tumor Cell Clusters
Maheswaran S, Haber DA, Toner M, et al. (2015)
Nature Methods 12(7):685-91.


Cancer clinical trials allow researchers to study innovative and potentially life-saving new treatments. The goal is to find treatments that are better than what’s currently available; in fact, the therapies offered to today’s cancer patients were almost all studied and made possible by people participating in clinical trials. But many cancer clinical trials aren’t completed because not enough people take part.

At, you’ll find clinical trial information, answers to common questions, and a free clinical trial finder tool.



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