The capture and subsequent analysis of rare cells, such as circulating tumor cells from a peripheral blood sample, has the potential to advance our understanding and treatment of a wide range of diseases. There is a particular need for high purity (i.e., high specificity) techniques to isolate these cells, reducing the time and cost required for single-cell genetic analyses by decreasing the number of contaminating cells analyzed. Previous work has shown that antibody-based immunocapture can be combined with dielectrophoresis (DEP) to differentially isolate cancer cells from leukocytes in a characterization device. Here, we build on that work by developing numerical simulations that identify microfluidic obstacle array geometries where DEP–immunocapture can be used to maximize the capture of target rare cells, while minimizing the capture of contaminating cells. We consider geometries with electrodes offset from the array and parallel to the fluid flow, maximizing the magnitude of the resulting electric field at the obstacles' leading and trailing edges, and minimizing it at the obstacles' shoulders. This configuration attracts cells with a positive DEP (pDEP) response to the leading edge, where the shear stress is low and residence time is long, resulting in a high capture probability; although these cells are also repelled from the shoulder region, the high local fluid velocity at the shoulder minimizes the impact on the overall transport and capture. Likewise, cells undergoing negative DEP (nDEP) are repelled from regions of high capture probability and attracted to regions where capture is unlikely. These simulations predict that DEP can be used to reduce the probability of capturing contaminating peripheral blood mononuclear cells (using nDEP) from 0.16 to 0.01 while simultaneously increasing the capture of several pancreatic cancer cell lines from 0.03–0.10 to 0.14–0.55, laying the groundwork for the experimental study of hybrid DEP–immunocapture obstacle array microdevices.

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