Immunomagnetic beads are important tools for the isolation and detection of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). However, the current immunomagnetic bead technique provides poor CTC separation purity due to nonspecific binding of background cells.
Furthermore, immunomagnetic beads have not been appropriately functionalized for enabling CTC analysis and quantification. In this work, bimetallic magnetic gold nanoparticles were prepared and coated with leukocyte membranes to form leukocyte membrane-camouflaged nanoparticles. After conjugation with the antibody of epithelial cell adhesionmolecule (EpCAM), the biomimetic immunomagnetic gold nanoparticles (CM-Fe3O4@Au-Ab) showed a high specific recognition ability on mock (EpCAM-positive) CTCs and a reduced interaction with leukocytes.
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We subsequently optimized the conditions for CTC separation, including the concentration of nanoparticles and the incubation time.
Under the optimized conditions, CM-Fe3O4@Au-Ab exhibited high CTC capture efficiency with negligible background cell binding in mock clinical blood samples.
More importantly, gold probes were tagged on the surface of these separated CTCs. When coupled with ICP-MS analysis, the number of CTCs and gold signals exhibited a good linear relationship, and a low limit of detection was obtained, enabling us to estimate the number of CTCs in blood samples. Hence, we expected that CM-Fe3O4@Au-Ab could provide an opportunity to surmount the limitations of current CTC detection.