Isolation and enumeration of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are used to monitor metastatic disease progression and guide cancer therapy. However, currently available technologies are limited to cells expressing specific cell surface markers, such as epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) or have limited specificity because they are based on cell size alone. We developed a device, ApoStream that overcomes these limitations by exploiting differences in the biophysical characteristics between cancer cells and normal, healthy blood cells to capture CTCs using dielectrophoretic technology in a microfluidic flow chamber. Further, the system overcomes throughput limitations by operating in continuous mode for efficient isolation and enrichment of CTCs from blood. The performance of the device was optimized using a design of experiment approach for key operating parameters such as frequency, voltage and flow rates, and buffer formulations. Cell spiking studies were conducted using SKOV3 or MDA-MB-231 cell lines that have a high and low expression level of EpCAM, respectively, to demonstrate linearity and precision of recovery independent of EpCAM receptor levels. The average recovery of SKOV3 and MDA-MB-231 cancer cells spiked into approximately 12 × 106 peripheral blood mononuclear cells obtained from 7.5 ml normal human donor blood was 75.4% ± 3.1% (n = 12) and 71.2% ± 1.6% (n = 6), respectively. The intra-day and inter-day precision coefficients of variation of the device were both less than 3%. Linear regression analysis yielded a correlation coefficient (R2) of more than 0.99 for a spiking range of 4–2600 cells. The viability of MDA-MB-231 cancer cells captured with ApoStream was greater than 97.1% and there was no difference in cell growth up to 7 days in culture compared to controls. The ApoStream device demonstrated high precision and linearity of recovery of viable cancer cells independent of their EpCAM expression level. Isolation and enrichment of viable cancer cells from ApoStream enables molecular characterization of CTCs from a wide range of cancer types.

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