Measuring single-cell density

We have used a microfluidic mass sensor to measure the density of single living cells. By weighing each cell in two fluids of different densities, our technique measures the single-cell mass, volume, and density of approximately 500 cells per hour with a density precision of 0.001 g mL-1. We observe that the intrinsic cell-to-cell variation in density is nearly 100-fold smaller than the mass or volume variation. As a result, we can measure changes in cell density indicative of cellular processes that would be otherwise undetectable by mass or volume measurements. Here, we demonstrate this with four examples: identifying Plasmodium falciparum malaria-infected erythrocytes in a culture, distinguishing transfused blood cells from a patient’s own blood, identifying irreversibly sickled cells in a sickle cell patient, and identifying leukemia cells in the early stages of responding to a drug treatment. These demonstrations suggest that the ability to measure single-cell density will provide valuable insights into cell state for a wide range of biological processes.

Grover, W., Bryan, A., Diez-Silva, M., Suresh, S., Higgins, J., Manalis, S.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume: 108
Number: 27
Pages: 10992-10996
Date: March, 2011
ICB Affiliated Authors: Scott R Manalis