3rd-year Chemical Engineering student Julia Zaenker has won an EPSRC bursary to conduct her summer undergraduate research project in Dr Krueger's group for 8 weeks.
Cell mechanical properties, such as deformability, have shown to be indicative of diseases, e.g. cancer, that affect the interior structure and the cytoskeleton of cells. "Deformability cytometry" is an automated microfluidic technology capable of probing single-cell deformability in an extensional flow at high throughputs of 2000 cells/s. Cells stretched by the large strain rates are recorded with high-speed cameras, and the deformation state is digitally analysed. This makes it possible to detect malignant cells in native populations of leukocytes and to predict disease states in patients with cancer and immune activation.
Deformability cytometry combines the statistical accuracy of traditional cytometric techniques with the advantage of higher throughput, without the need for expensive labelling. However, it is presently not clear which effect the natural variability of cell properties has on the robustness of the detection.
The aim of this project is to better understand these effects. Via computer simulations, we will investigate the effect of cell properties, such as rigidity, size and nuclear structure, on cell deformation in extensional flow. We will validate our results against existing experimental data. This summer project will lead to larger follow-up projects. In the long term, a deeper understanding of cell deformation mechanisms will enable more robust next-generation diagnostic tools for automated single-cell analysis.