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Finding Needles in Haystacks

Flow cytometry is a ubiquitous tool for analyzing heterogeneous cell populations. Whilst conventional flow cytometers can probe single cells at rates in excess of 10,000 cells per second, they are unable detect rare cells in clinical samples within acceptable timescales. Interestingly, microfluidic systems are able to analyze single cells at rates in excess of 100,000 cells per second, and thus offer new opportunities for the analysis of rare cells that are associated with disease. In a recent study, Kamil Aslan and colleagues from the deMello group at ETH Zurich and University Hospital Zurich developed a novel chip-based flow cytometer able to probe cellular populations at ultra-high throughput. Their platform integrates a viscoelastic microfluidic system and CMOS linear image sensor-based detection system and is able to detect single cells at rates in excess of 400,000 cells per second.

To illustrate the power of this cytometer, the authors focused on the detection of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). CTCs are recognized as powerful diagnostic biomarkers for cancer, and can potentially be used for early-stage disease diagnosis. A model CTC system, consisting of human brain glioblastoma cells spiked into an HEK cell population was used to test efficacy, with data indicating that CTCs could be detected at abundances as low as 6 CTCs per million red blood cells within short time periods. Due to its simplicity and excellent performance, the platform has great potential as a rapid diagnostic tool, especially in resource-limited settings.

Written by Jake Lesinski

Read the published article here.

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