Rare cell isolation and analysis in microfluidics
Rare cells are low-abundance cells in a much larger population of background cells. Conventional benchtop techniques have limited capabilities to isolate and analyze rare cells because of their generally low selectivity and significant sample loss. Recent rapid advances in microfluidics have been providing robust solutions to the challenges in the isolation and analysis of rare cells. In addition to the apparent performance enhancements resulting in higher efficiencies and sensitivity levels, microfluidics provides other advanced features such as simpler handling of small sample volumes and multiplexing capabilities for high-throughput processing. All of these advantages make microfluidics an excellent platform to deal with the transport, isolation, and analysis of rare cells. Various cellular biomarkers, including physical properties, dielectric properties, as well as immunoaffinities, have been explored for isolating rare cells. In this Focus article, we discuss the design considerations of representative microfluidic devices for rare cell isolation and analysis. Examples from recently published works are discussed to highlight the advantages and limitations of the different techniques. Various applications of these techniques are then introduced. Finally, a perspective on the development trends and promising research directions in this field are proposed.