The extensive phenotypic and functional heterogeneity of cancer cells plays an important role in tumor progression and therapeutic resistance. Characterizing this heterogeneity and identifying invasive phenotype may provide possibility to improve chemotherapy treatment. By mimicking cancer cell perfusion through circulatory system in metastasis, we develop a unique microfluidic cytometry (MC) platform to separate cancer cells at high throughput, and further derive a physical parameter transportability(tm) to characterize the ability to pass through micro-constrictions. The transportability is determined by cell stiffness and cell-surface frictional property, and can be used to probe tumor heterogeneity, discriminate more invasive phenotypes and correlate with biomarker expressions in breast cancer cells. Decreased cell stiffness and cell-surface frictional force leads to an increase in transportability and may be a feature of invasive cancer cells by promoting cell perfusion through narrow spaces in circulatory system. The MC-Chip provides a promising microfluidic platform for studying cell mechanics and transportability could be used as a novel marker for probing tumor heterogeneity and determining invasive phenotypes.
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