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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jul 5;108(27):10992-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1104651108. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

Measuring single-cell density.

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  • 1Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


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.

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