Deformability based sorting of red blood cells improves diagnostic sensitivity for malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum†
The loss of red blood cell (RBC) deformability is part of the pathology of many diseases. In malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum infection, metabolism of hemoglobin by the parasite results in progressive reduction in RBC deformability that is directly correlated with the growth and development of the parasite. The ability to sort RBCs based on deformability therefore provides a means to isolate pathological cells and to study biochemical events associated with disease progression. Existing methods have not been able to sort RBCs based on deformability or to effectively enrich for P. falciparum infected RBCs at clinically relevant concentrations. Here, we develop a method to sort RBCs based on deformability and demonstrate the ability to enrich the concentration of ring-stage P. falciparum infected RBCs (Pf-iRBCs) by >100× from clinically relevant parasitemia (<0.01%). Deformability based sorting of RBCs is accomplished using ratchet transport through asymmetrical constrictions using oscillatory flow. This mechanism provides dramatically improved selectivity over previous biophysical methods by preventing the accumulation of cells in the filter microstructure to ensure that consistent filtration forces are applied to each cell. We show that our approach dramatically improves the sensitivity of malaria diagnosis performed using both microscopy and rapid diagnostic test by converting samples with difficult-to-detect parasitemia (<0.01%) into samples with easily detectable parasitemia (>0.1%).