New device could improve biomarker analyses

Jun 26, 2014
Visualization from a numerical simulation of a cell flowing past the obstacle through the microfluidic device.

A device proposed by researchers at Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology could offer a more reliable alternative for detecting biomarkers in patients facing such illnesses as cancer or malaria.

Whether to extract circulating from the blood of a cancer patient, or to measure the elasticity of due to malaria infection, the physical attributes of cells are important biomarkers in medicine.

Yet today, most cell sorting techniques rely on the difference between chemical properties of the cells.

The problem is chemical properties don't give pathologists the full picture. Two cells can have very similar chemical properties, but different physical properties. Size, shape and elasticity, or deformability, are important attributes that can be also enable cell sorting, given the right kind of device.

Luca Brandt, a professor of fluid mechanics at KTH, says his team used extensive computational simulations to propose a microfluidic device that would sort cells according to their elasticity.

Dhrubaditya Mitra, Assistant Professor in theoretical physics at NORDITA, Nordic Institute of Theoretical Physics at KTH and Stockholm University, offers an example of why elasticity matters. If you are infected with malaria, the physical nature of your red blood cells changes, he says.

Visualization from a numerical simulation of a cell flowing past the obstacle through the microfluidic device.

"They become harder. And red blood cells also become harder as they get older too," Mitra says. "These harder red blood cells are filtered by the spleen which acts like a sieve. The softer red can squeeze through the gaps but the harder ones cannot."

Consisting of a duct embedded with a semi-cylindrical obstacle, and a diffuser, a microfluidic device works in a similar fashion. Several kinds of have been fabricated to detect biophysical markers. But the big challenge has been in designing the geometries that allow for efficient cell sorting, Brandt says.

The design was proposed by the researchers at KTH Linne FLOW Centre and SeRC (Swedish e-Science Centre): Lailai Zhu, who implemented the numerical model, and Cecilia Rorai, who worked together under the guidance of Brandt and Mitra. Their work draws on numerical techniques and computational capabilities developed in the last decade to handle the complexity of microscale flows.  The researchers recently published their paper in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal, Soft Matter.

"A particular novelty of our work is that this design process has not been done in a laboratory but as a computer simulation," Brandt says, comparing their computer simulations to the early stages of aircraft or vehicle design. "We hope that our work will bring such a change to design of microfluidic devices, too."

Explore further: New technology that sorts cells by stiffness may help spot disease

More information: "A microfluidic device to sort capsules by deformability: A numerical study." Lailai Zhu, Cecilia Rorai, Dhrubaditya Mitra and Luca Brandt. Soft Matter, 2014, Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1039/C4SM01097C. Received 20 May 2014, Accepted 20 Jun 2014. First published online 20 Jun 2014

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Malaria: Blood cells behaving badly

Jun 10, 2014

All the billions of flat, biconcave disks in our body known as red blood cells (or erythrocytes) make three basic, tumbling-treadmill-type motions when they wend their way through the body's bloodstream ferrying ...

Recommended for you

Ice cream goes Southern, okra extracts may increase shelf-life

59 minutes ago

While okra has been widely used as a vegetable for soups and stews, a new study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), shows how okra extracts can be used as a stabilizer in ice ...

The fluorescent fingerprint of plastics

6 hours ago

LMU researchers have developed a new process which will greatly simplify the process of sorting plastics in recycling plants. The method enables automated identification of polymers, facilitating rapid separation ...

Water and sunlight the formula for sustainable fuel

10 hours ago

An Australian National University (ANU) team has successfully replicated one of the crucial steps in photosynthesis, opening the way for biological systems powered by sunlight which could manufacture hydrogen ...

Rice chemist wins 'Nobel Prize of Cyprus'

10 hours ago

Rice University organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou has earned three prestigious international honors, including the Nemitsas Prize, the highest honor a Cypriot scientist can receive and one of the most prestigious ...

Researchers create engineered energy absorbing material

12 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Materials like solid gels and porous foams are used for padding and cushioning, but each has its own advantages and limitations. Gels are effective as padding but are relatively heavy; gel performance ...

User comments : 0