A simplified sheathless cell separation approach using combined gravitational-sedimentation-based prefocusing and dielectrophoretic separation†
Prefocusing of the cell mixture is necessary for achieving a high-efficiency and continuous dielectrophoretic (DEP) cell separation. However, prefocusing through sheath flow requires a complex and tedious peripheral system for multi-channel fluid control, hindering the integration of DEP separation systems with other microfluidic functionalities for comprehensive clinical and biological tasks. This paper presented a simplified sheathless cell separation approach that combines gravitational-sedimentation-based sheathless prefocusing and DEP separation methods. Through gravitational sedimentation in a tubing, which was inserted into the inlet of a microfluidic chip with an adjustable steering angle, the cells were focused into a stream at the upstream region of a microchannel prior to separation. Then, a DEP force was applied at the downstream region of the microchannel for the active separation of the cells. Through this combined strategy, the peripheral system for the sheath flow was no longer required, and thus the integration of cell separation system with additional microfluidic functionalities was facilitated. The proposed sheathless scheme focused the mixture of cells with different sizes and dielectric properties into a stream in a wide range of flow rates without changing the design of the microfluidic chip. The DEP method is a label-free approach that can continuously separate cells on the basis of the sizes or dielectric properties of the cells and thus capable of greatly flexible cell separation. The efficiency of the proposed approach was experimentally assessed according to its performance in the separation of human acute monocytic leukemia THP-1 cells from yeast cells with respect to different sizes and THP-1 cells from human acute myelomonocytic leukemia OCI-AML3 cells with respect to different dielectric properties. The experimental results revealed that the separation efficiency of the method can surpass 90% and thus effective in separating cells on the basis of either size or dielectric property.