High-efficiency single cell encapsulation and size selective capture of cells in picoliter droplets based on hydrodynamic micro-vortices†
Single cell analysis has emerged as a paradigm shift in cell biology to understand the heterogeneity of individual cells in a clone for pathological interrogation. Microfluidic droplet technology is a compelling platform to perform single cell analysis by encapsulating single cells inside picoliter–nanoliter (pL–nL) volume droplets. However, one of the primary challenges for droplet based single cell assays is single cell encapsulation in droplets, currently achieved either randomly, dictated by Poisson statistics, or by hydrodynamic techniques. In this paper, we present an interfacial hydrodynamic technique which initially traps the cells in micro-vortices, and later releases them one-to-one into the droplets, controlled by the width of the outer streamline that separates the vortex from the flow through the streaming passage adjacent to the aqueous–oil interface (dgap). One-to-one encapsulation is achieved at a dgap equal to the radius of the cell, whereas complete trapping of the cells is realized at a dgap smaller than the radius of the cell. The unique feature of this technique is that it can perform 1. high efficiency single cell encapsulations and 2. size-selective capturing of cells, at low cell loading densities. Here we demonstrate these two capabilities with a 50% single cell encapsulation efficiency and size selective separation of platelets, RBCs and WBCs from a 10× diluted blood sample (WBC capture efficiency at 70%). The results suggest a passive, hydrodynamic micro-vortex based technique capable of performing high-efficiency single cell encapsulation for cell based assays.