The cellular components of body fluids are routinely analyzed to identify disease and treatment approaches. While significant focus has been placed on developing cell analysis technologies, tools to automate the preparation of cellular specimens have been more limited, especially for body fluids beyond blood. Preparation steps include separating, concentrating, and exposing cells to reagents. Sample preparation continues to be routinely performed off-chip by technicians, preventing cell-based point-of-care diagnostics, increasing the cost of tests, and reducing the consistency of the final analysis following multiple manually-performed steps. Here, we review the assortment of biofluids for which suspended cells are analyzed, along with their characteristics and diagnostic value. We present an overview of the conventional sample preparation processes for cytological diagnosis. We finally discuss the challenges and opportunities in developing microfluidic devices for the purpose of automating or miniaturizing these processes, with particular emphases on preparing large or small volume samples, working with samples of high cellularity, automating multi-step processes, and obtaining high purity subpopulations of cells. We hope to convey the importance of and help identify new research directions addressing the vast biological and clinical applications in preparing and analyzing the array of available biological fluids. Successfully addressing the challenges described in this review can lead to inexpensive systems to improve diagnostic accuracy while simultaneously reducing overall systemic healthcare costs.
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