Chemical and physical factors affecting the enrichment of rare cells by microfiltration - PHYS 396 Undergraduate Research Project Application Form

Supervisor's Name: David Juncker

Supervisor's Email: david.juncker [at]

Supervisor's Phone: 514-398-7676

Supervisor's Website:

Supervisor's department: Biomedical Engineering

Course number: PHYS 396 (Physics)

Term: Fall 2014-2015

Project start date: 2 September 2014

Project end date: 4 December 2014

Project title: Chemical and physical factors affecting the enrichment of rare cells by microfiltration

Project description (50-100 words suggested): Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are recognized as a powerful indicator for cancer prognosis. These cells are shed from the primary tumor and enter the bloodstream, traveling through the body and eventually causing metastasis. Microfiltration is commonly used to enrich CTCs from patient blood, however this is a significant challenge. CTCs can be exceedingly rare and must be separated from thousands of white blood cells of similar size. The low capture rate and poor purity of CTCs isolated by microfiltration are major obstacles to the widespread implementation of CTC analysis in oncological care. The goal of this project is to optimize filtration parameters for the isolation and purification of CTCs from whole blood. Two main factors of microfiltration will be investigated, the sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity refers to the efficiency of CTC recovery from blood and specificity refers to the purity of isolated cells. These will be evaluated by looking at i) the minimum number of cancer cells that can be detected in a given volume of blood, and ii) chemical techniques to minimize filter fouling by white blood cells.
Major Activities:
1. Evaluate the effects of various microfiltration parameters such as the flow rate, fluid cellularity, and membrane pore size on the efficiency of cell recovery.
2. Investigate methods for reducing membrane fouling by using backflow techniques, optimizing washing steps, and using anti-fouling filter coatings.
3. Analyze the impact of abovementioned parameters on the sensitivity and purity of microfiltration.

Prerequisite: 1 term completed at McGill + CGPA of 3.0 or higher; or permission of instructor.

Grading scheme (The final report must be worth at least 50% of final grade): 

Final grade shall be based on an evaluation of laboratory (or equivalent) performance (40%), a final written report (50%), and an oral presentation (10%) by the supervisor.

Other project information: Assets include: some background and theory in fluid mechanics and/or chemistry and/or molecular biology, a strong ability to design and conduct experiments and work in a laboratory setting, or experience in microfiltration, cell culture, surface chemistry, or statistical analysis.

Project status: This project is open to applicant.

How students can apply / Next steps: Please apply by sending your cover letter and CV to Kate Turner: katherine.turner2 [at] For questions call ext.09589.

Ethics, safety, and training: Supervisors are responsible for the ethics and safety compliance of undergraduate students. This project involves: Biohazardous substances; Handling chemicals.