The separation of cells based on their biomechanical properties, such as size and deformability, is important in applications such as the identification of circulating tumor cells, where morphological differences can be used to distinguish target cancer cells from contaminant leukocytes. Existing filtration-based separation processes are limited in their selectivity and their ability to extract the separated cells because of clogging in the filter microstructures. We present a cell separation device consisting of a hydrodynamic concentrator and a microfluidic ratchet mechanism operating in tandem. The hydrodynamic concentrator removes the majority of the fluid and a fraction of leukocytes based on size, while the microfluidic ratchet mechanism separates cancer cells from leukocytes based on a combination of size and deformability. The irreversible ratcheting process enables highly selective separation and robust extraction of separated cells. Using cancer cells spiked into leukocyte suspensions, the complete system demonstrated a yield of 97%, while enriching the concentration of target cancer cells 3000 fold relative to the concentration of leukocytes.
Lin, Bill K., Sarah M. McFaul, Chao Jin, Peter C. Black, Hongshen Ma