A microfabricated deformability-based flow cytometer with application to malaria
Malaria resulting from Plasmodium falciparum infection is a major cause of human suffering and mortality. Red blood cell (RBC) deformability plays a major role in the pathogenesis of malaria. Here we introduce an automated microfabricated “deformability cytometer” that measures dynamic mechanical responses of 103 to 104 individual RBCs in a cell population. Fluorescence measurements of each RBC are simultaneously acquired, resulting in a population-based correlation between biochemical properties, such as cell surface markers, and dynamic mechanical deformability. This device is especially applicable to heterogeneous cell populations. We demonstrate its ability to mechanically characterize a small number of P. falciparum-infected (ring stage) RBCs in a large population of uninfected RBCs. Furthermore, we are able to infer quantitative mechanical properties of individual RBCs from the observed dynamic behavior through a dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) model. These methods collectively provide a systematic approach to characterize the biomechanical properties of cells in a high-throughput manner.