Microfluidic channel for characterizing normal and breast cancer cells

T. N. Truongvo, R. M. Kennedy, H. Chen, A. Chen, A. Berndt, M. Agarwal, L. Zhu, H. Nakshatri, J. Wallace, S. Na, H. Yokota, J. E. Ryu

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10 Scopus citations


A microfluidic channel was designed and fabricated for the investigation of behaviors of normal and cancer cells in a narrow channel. A specific question addressed in this study was whether it is possible to distinguish normal versus cancer cells by detecting their stationary and passing behaviors through a narrow channel. We hypothesized that due to higher deformability, softer cancer cells will pass through the channel further and quicker than normal cells. Two cell lines, employed herein, were non-tumor breast epithelial cells (MCF-10A; 11.2 ±2.4 μm in diameter) and triple negative breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231; 12.4 ±2.1 μm in diameter). The microfluidic channel was 300 μm long and linearly tapered with a width of 30 μm at an inlet to 5 μm at an outlet. The result revealed that MDA-MB-231 cells entered and stuck further toward the outlet than MCF-10A cells in response to a slow flow (2 μl min-1). Further, in response to a fast flow (5 μl min-1), the passage time (mean ±s.d.) was 26.6 ±43.9 s for normal cells (N = 158), and 1.9 ±1.4 s for cancer cells (N = 128). The measurement of stiffness by atomic force microscopy as well as model-based predictions pointed out that MDA-MB-231 cells are significantly softer than MCF-10A cells. Collectively, the result in this study suggests that analysis of an individual cell's behavior through a narrow channel can characterize deformable cancer cells from normal ones, supporting the possibility of enriching circulating tumor cells using novel microfluidics-based analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number035017
JournalJournal of Micromechanics and Microengineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 15 2017


  • breast cancer
  • cell deformability
  • metastatic cancer
  • microfluidics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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    Truongvo, T. N., Kennedy, R. M., Chen, H., Chen, A., Berndt, A., Agarwal, M., Zhu, L., Nakshatri, H., Wallace, J., Na, S., Yokota, H., & Ryu, J. E. (2017). Microfluidic channel for characterizing normal and breast cancer cells. Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, 27(3), [035017]. https://doi.org/10.1088/1361-6439/aa5bbb