Deformability-induced lift force in spiral microchannels for cell separation†
Cell sorting and isolation from a heterogeneous mixture is a crucial task in many aspects of cell biology, biotechnology and medicine. Recently, there has been an interest in methods allowing cell separation upon their intrinsic properties such as cell size and deformability, without the need for use of biochemical labels. Inertial focusing in spiral microchannels has been recognised as an attractive approach for high-throughput cell sorting for myriad point of care and clinical diagnostics. Particles of different sizes interact to a different degree with the fluid flow pattern generated within the spiral microchannel and that leads to particles ordering and separation based on size. However, the deformable nature of cells adds complexity to their ordering within the spiral channels. Herein, an additional force, deformability-induced lift force (FD), involved in the cell focusing mechanism within spiral microchannels has been identified, investigated and reported for the first time, using a cellular deformability model (where the deformability of cells is gradually altered using chemical treatments). Using this model, we demonstrated that spiral microchannels are capable of separating cells of the same size but different deformability properties, extending the capability of the previous method. We have developed a unique label-free approach for deformability-based purification through coupling the effect of FD with inertial focusing in spiral microchannels. This microfluidic-based purification strategy, free of the modifying immuno-labels, allowing cell processing at a large scale (millions of cells per min and mls of medium per minute), up to high purities and separation efficiency and without compromising cell quality.