An optofluidic “tweeze-and-drag” cell stretcher in a microfluidic channel†
The mechanical properties of biological cells are utilized as an inherent, label-free biomarker to indicate physiological and pathological changes of cells. Although various optical and microfluidic techniques have been developed for cell mechanical characterization, there is still a strong demand for non-contact and continuous methods. Here, by combining optical and microfluidic techniques in a single desktop platform, we demonstrate an optofluidic cell stretcher based on a “tweeze-and-drag” mechanism using a periodically chopped, tightly focused laser beam as an optical tweezer to trap a cell temporarily and a flow-induced drag force to stretch the cell in a microfluidic channel transverse to the tweezer. Our method leverages the advantages of non-contact optical forces and a microfluidic flow for both cell stretching and continuous cell delivery. We demonstrate the stretcher for mechanical characterization of rabbit red blood cells (RBCs), with a throughput of ∼1 cell per s at a flow rate of 2.5 μl h−1 at a continuous-wave laser power of ∼25 mW at a wavelength of 1064 nm (chopped at 2 Hz). We estimate the spring constant of RBCs to be ∼14.9 μN m−1. Using the stretcher, we distinguish healthy RBCs and RBCs treated with glutaraldehyde at concentrations of 5 × 10−4% to 2.5 × 10−3%, with a strain-to-concentration sensitivity of ∼−1529. By increasing the optical power to ∼45 mW, we demonstrate cell-stretching under a higher flow rate of 4 μl h−1, with a higher throughput of ∼1.5 cells per s and a higher sensitivity of ∼−2457. Our technique shows promise for applications in the fields of healthcare monitoring and biomechanical studies.