Selective trapping of single mammalian breast cancer cells by insulator-based dielectrophoresis

Sanchari Bhattacharya, Tzu Chiao Chao, Nethmi Ariyasinghe, Yvette Ruiz, Douglas Lake, Robert Ros, Alexandra Ros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The trapping or immobilization of individual cells at specific locations in microfluidic platforms is essential for single cell studies, especially those requiring cell stimulation and downstream analysis of cellular content. Selectivity for individual cell types is required when mixtures of cells are analyzed in heterogeneous and complex matrices, such as the selection of metastatic cells within blood samples. Here, we demonstrate a microfluidic device based on direct current (DC) insulator-based dielectrophoresis (iDEP) for selective trapping of single MCF-7 breast cancer cells from mixtures with both mammalian peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) as well MDA-MB-231 as a second breast cancer cell type. The microfluidic device has a teardrop iDEP design optimized for the selective capture of single cells based on their differential DEP behavior under DC conditions. Numerical simulations adapted to experimental device geometries and buffer conditions predicted the trapping condition in which the dielectrophoretic force overcomes electrokinetic forces for MCF-7 cells, whereas PBMCs were not trapped. Experimentally, selective trapping of viable MCF-7 cells in mixtures with PBMCs was demonstrated in good agreement with simulations. A similar approach was also executed to demonstrate the selective trapping of MCF-7 cells in a mixture with MDA-MB-231 cells, indicating the selectivity of the device for weakly invasive and highly invasive breast cancer cells. The DEP studies were complemented with cell viability tests indicating acceptable cell viability over the course of an iDEP trapping experiment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1855-1865
Number of pages11
JournalAnalytical and bioanalytical chemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Cancer cell
  • Dielectrophoresis
  • Insulator-based
  • Numerical simulation
  • Selective trapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry


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