Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) represents one of the most aggressive malignancies among cancer types. Not only tumor sample availability is limited, but also the ability for tumor cells to rapidly acquire drug resistance are the rate-limiting bottlenecks for overall survival in current clinical settings. A liquid biopsy capable of capturing and enriching circulating tumor cells (CTCs), together with the possibility of drug screening, is a promising solution. Here, we illustrate the development of a highly efficient ex vivo CTC expansion system based on binary colloidal crystals substrate. Clinical samples were enrolled from 22 patients with SCLC in the study. The CTCs were enriched and expanded from the collected peripheral blood samples. Expanded cells were analyzed for protein expression and observed for drug sensitivity with the use of immunofluorescence and ATP titer evaluation, respectively. Successful CTC spheroid proliferation was established after 4 weeks within 82% of all the collected peripheral blood samples from enrolled patients. Upon immunofluorescence analysis, the enriched cells showed positive markers for EpCAM, TTF-1, synaptophysin and negative for CD45. Additionally, the expanded CTCs demonstrated marked heterogeneity in the expression of E-cadherin and N-cadherin. In a preliminary case series, the drug sensitivity of patient-derived CTC to cisplatin and etoposide was studied to see the correlation with the corresponding therapeutic outcome. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that it is possible to efficiently expand CTCs from SCLC within a clinically relevant time frame; the biomarker information generated from enriched CTCs can assist the selection of effective drugs and improve disease outcome.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3394
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Circulating tumor cells
  • Liquid biopsy
  • Personalized medicine
  • Primary cell culture
  • Small cell lung cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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