Separation of Tumor Cells with Dielectrophoresis-Based Microfluidic Chip

Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Biomicrofluidics, Physics


The present work demonstrates the use of a dielectrophoretic lab-on-a-chip device in effectively separating different cancer cells of epithelial origin for application in circulating tumor cell (CTC)identification. This study uses dielectrophoresis (DEP) to distinguish and separate MCF-7 human breast cancer cells from HCT-116 colorectal cancer cells. The DEP responses for eachcell type were measured against AC electrical frequency changes in solutions of varying conductivities. Increasing the conductivity of the suspension directly correlated with an increasing frequency value for the first cross-over (no DEP force) point in the DEP spectra. Differences in the cross-over frequency for each cell type were leveraged to determine a frequency at which the two types of cell could be separated through DEP forces. Under a particular medium conductivity, different types of cells could have different DEP behaviors in a very narrow AC frequency band, demonstrating a high specificity of DEP. Using a microfluidicDEP sorter with optically transparent electrodes, MCF-7 and HCT-116 cells were successfully separated from each other under a 3.2 MHz frequency in a 0.1X PBS solution. Further experiments were conducted to characterize the separation efficiency (enrichment factor) by changing experimental parameters (AC frequency, voltage, and flow rate). This work has shown the high specificity of the described DEP cell sorter for distinguishing cells with similar characteristics for potential diagnostic applications through CTC enrichment.