Gentle and precise handling of cell suspensions is essential for scientific research and clinical diagnostic applications. Although different techniques for cell analysis at the micro-scale have been proposed, many still require that preliminary sample preparation steps be performed off the chip. Here we present a microstructured membrane as a new microfluidic design concept, enabling the implementation of common sample preparation procedures for suspensions of eukaryotic cells in lab-on-a-chip devices. We demonstrate the novel capabilities for sample preparation procedures by the implementation of metered sampling of nanoliter volumes of whole blood, concentration increase up to three orders of magnitude of sparse cell suspension, and circumferentially uniform, sequential exposure of cells to reagents. We implemented these functions by using microstructured membranes that are pneumatically actuated and allowed to reversibly decouple the flow of fluids and the displacement of eukaryotic cells in suspensions. Furthermore, by integrating multiple structures on the same membrane, complex sequential procedures are possible using a limited number of control steps.
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