Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

A Microfluidic System for Measurement of Red Blood Cell Deformability

Technology #2019-203

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Mark A Burns
Managed By
Jeremy Nelson
Senior Licensing Specialist, Physical Sciences & Engineering 734-936-2095
Patent Protection

US Patent Pending

The size and stiffness, or deformability, of biological cells can be important attributes when studying disease states. Red blood cells (RBC) in particular exhibit a unique ability to deform when healthy that allow them to be transported in microvasculature. Changes to this deformability have been implicated in sickle cell anemia, malaria, and diabetes. Microfluidic technologies have been developed recently to study the deformability and size of RBC. While the goal of these techniques is to characterize RBC in an affordable and high-throughput manner using low sample volumes, these analyses can be complicated and involve the use of very precise pressure.

Microfluidic method and device for size and deformability measurements

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a device capable of measuring size and deformability of large populations of RBC or other particles. For this device to be manufactured, a technique capable of creating smoothly sloped microfluidic channels that have a higher height at the entrance and a lower height at the exitwas established and tested. Two different prototypes were assembled leveraging this manufacturing method, and proof of concept experiments with particles and different types of RBC were performed. The experiments showed that this device is able to separate particles and cells based on their size and deformability, and specifically that RBC before and after treatment with glutaraldehyde could be differentiated. The technology could find important uses in both research of disease and medical diagnostics.

Microfluidic viscometer for real-time blood coagulation monitoring

This RBC measurement technique is just one component of a fully automated, droplet-based microfluidic rheometer system that can monitor and analyze a variety of rheological properties of relevance to the blood coagulation process. With just a few microliters of blood, the device is able to measure whole blood viscosity, plasma viscosity, RBC deformability, and potentially coagulation. The microfluidic rheometer is much smaller in size than current bench-top devices, and is portable. This small size enables convenient patient self-testing and point-of-care use.


  • Measurement of cell size and deformability
  • Blood viability checking for transfusion medicine
  • Diagnosis of sickle cell disease, malaria, and diabetes
  • Method for creating sloped microfluidic devices


  • Portable, automated device
  • High-throughput or bulk analysis¬†
  • Small sample volumes