The mechanical phenotype of cells is an intrinsic property of individual cells. In fact, this property could serve as a label-free, non-destructive, diagnostic marker of the state of cells owing to its remarkable translational potential. A microfluidic device is a strong candidate for meeting the demand of this translational research as it can be used to diagnose a large population of cells at a single cell level in a high-throughput manner, without the need for off-line pretreatment operations. In this study, we investigated the mechanical phenotype of the human colon adenocarcinoma cell, HT29, which is known to be a heterogeneous cell line with both multipotency and self-renewal abilities. This type of cancer stem-like cell (CSC) is believed to be the unique originators of all tumor cells and may serve as the leading cause of cancer metastasis and drug resistance. By combining consecutive constrictions and microchannels with an ionic current sensing system, we found a high heterogeneity of cell deformability in the population of HT29 cells. Moreover, based on the level of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity and the expression level of CD44s, which are biochemical markers that suggest the multipotency of cells, the high heterogeneity of cell deformability was concluded to be a potential mechanical marker of CSCs. The development of label-free and non-destructive identification and collection techniques for CSCs has remarkable potential not only for cancer diagnosis and prognosis but also for the discovery of a new treatment for cancer.
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