Single-cell deformability has been recently identified as a critical biomarker for various diseases and it varies considerably based on phenotypes. Current cell deformability measurement techniques, however, are inherently low throughput for statistical analysis of large heterogeneous biological samples. We focus on developing high-throughput microfluidic techniques for measuring intrinsic properties of single cells, including intracellular viscosity, membrane tension/elasticity and Young's modulus. These measurements will allow us to identify potential genetic-alterations and phenotype-changes, responsible for modification in such properties of cells. Furthermore, systematic determination of single-cell mechanical properties in a rapid and standardized manner will expedite an adoption of aforementioned properties as new types of biomarkers for phenotype characterizations. These newly revealed biomarkers should provide efficient tools for determining the cell state and phenotype, which are potentially useful for cancer diagnostics and prognostics, cell-based therapeutics as well as developmental biology.
Our group develops optical technologies for capturing 2D, 3D and hyperspectral images of cells in fast moving fluids. These systems exploit spectral, angular and polarization degrees of freedom in the optical signal, as well as recent advances in microoptics, high speed light sources and cameras. In addition to spatial and spectral information, we are also interested in performing quantitative measurements of other physical characteristics of cells, such as volume, protein mass, and oxygen tension. Resolving the distribution of various measurable parameters enables better understanding of subtle differences in the response of each cell to its environment. We are currently using these measurements to differentiate pathological blood cells and to study the life cycle and kinetics of immune cells.