Microsystems for the capture of low-abundance cells

Annu Rev Anal Chem (Palo Alto Calif). 2010:3:409-31. doi: 10.1146/annurev.anchem.111808.073610.


Efficient selection and enumeration of low-abundance biological cells are highly important in a variety of applications. For example, the clinical utility of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in peripheral blood is recognized as a viable biomarker for the management of various cancers, in which the clinically relevant number of CTCs per 7.5 ml of blood is two to five. Although there are several methods for isolating rare cells from a variety of heterogeneous samples, such as immunomagnetic-assisted cell sorting and fluorescence-activated cell sorting, they are fraught with challenges. Microsystem-based technologies are providing new opportunities for selecting and isolating rare cells from complex, heterogeneous samples. Such approaches involve reductions in target-cell loss, process automation, and minimization of contamination issues. In this review, we introduce different application areas requiring rare cell analysis, conventional techniques for their selection, and finally microsystem approaches for low-abundance-cell isolation and enumeration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating


  • Biomarkers, Tumor