Methods 2012 Jul 11;57(3):297-307. Epub 2012 Jul 11.
Institut Curie, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Unité Mixte de Recherche 168, 75005 Paris, France.
At first mostly dedicated to molecular analysis, microfluidic systems are rapidly expanding their range of applications towards cell biology, thanks to their ability to control the mechanical, biological and fluidic environment at the scale of the cells. A number of new concepts based on microfluidics were indeed proposed in the last ten years for cell sorting. For many of these concepts, progress remains to be done regarding automation, standardization, or throughput, but it is now clear that microfluidics will have a major contribution to the field, from fundamental research to point-of-care diagnosis. We present here an overview of cells sorting in microfluidics, with an emphasis on circulating tumor cells. Sorting principles are classified in two main categories, methods based on physical properties of the cells, such as size, deformability, electric or optical properties, and methods based on biomolecular properties, notably specific surface antigens. We document potential applications, discuss the main advantages and limitations of different approaches, and tentatively outline the main remaining challenges in this fast evolving field.