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Chem Soc Rev. 2010 Mar;39(3):974-84. doi: 10.1039/b917851a. Epub 2010 Jan 12.

Microfluidic stochastic confinement enhances analysis of rare cells by isolating cells and creating high density environments for control of diffusible signals.

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Department of Chemistry and Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, The University of Chicago, 929 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Rare cells can be difficult to analyze because they either occur in low numbers or coexist with a more abundant cell type, yet their detection is crucial for diagnosing disease and maintaining human health. In this tutorial review, we introduce the concept of microfluidic stochastic confinement for use in detection and analysis of rare cells. Stochastic confinement provides two advantages: (1) it separates rare single cells from the bulk mixture and (2) it allows signals to locally accumulate to a higher concentration around a single cell than in the bulk mixture. Microfluidics is an attractive method for implementing stochastic confinement because it provides simple handling of small volumes. We present technologies for microfluidic stochastic confinement that utilize both wells and droplets for the detection and analysis of single cells. We address how these microfluidic technologies have been used to observe new behavior, increase speed of detection, and enhance cultivation of rare cells. We discuss potential applications of microfluidic stochastic confinement to fields such as human diagnostics and environmental testing.

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