A high-throughput flow cytometry-on-a-CMOS platform for single-cell dielectric spectroscopy at microwave frequencies†
This work presents a microfluidics-integrated label-free flow cytometry-on-a-CMOS platform for the characterization of the cytoplasm dielectric properties at microwave frequencies. Compared with MHz impedance cytometers, operating at GHz frequencies offers direct intracellular permittivity probing due to electric fields penetrating through the cellular membrane. To overcome the detection challenges at high frequencies, the spectrometer employs on-chip oscillator-based sensors, which embeds simultaneous frequency generation, electrode excitation, and signal detection capabilities. By employing an injection-locking phase-detection technique, the spectrometer offers state-of-the-art sensitivity, achieving a less than 1 aFrms capacitance detection limit (or 5 ppm in frequency-shift) at a 100 kHz noise filtering bandwidth, enabling high throughput (>1k cells per s), with a measured cellular SNR of more than 28 dB. With CMOS/microfluidics co-design, we distribute four sensing channels at 6.5, 11, 17.5, and 30 GHz in an arrayed format whereas the frequencies are selected to center around the water relaxation frequency at 18 GHz. An issue in the integration of CMOS and microfluidics due to size mismatch is also addressed through introducing a cost-efficient epoxy-molding technique. With 3-D hydrodynamic focusing microfluidics, we perform characterization on four different cell lines including two breast cell lines (MCF-10A and MDA-MB-231) and two leukocyte cell lines (K-562 and THP-1). After normalizing the higher frequency signals to the 6.5 GHz ones, the size-independent dielectric opacity shows a differentiable distribution at 17.5 GHz between normal (0.905 ± 0.160, mean ± std.) and highly metastatic (1.033 ± 0.107) breast cells with p ≪ 0.001.