Cell separation and sorting are essential steps in cell biology research and in many diagnostic and therapeutic methods. Recently, there has been interest in methods which avoid the use of biochemical labels; numerous intrinsic biomarkers have been explored to identify cells including size, electrical polarizability, and hydrodynamic properties. This review highlights microfluidic techniques used for label-free discrimination and fractionation of cell populations. Microfluidic systems have been adopted to precisely handle single cells and interface with other tools for biochemical analysis. We analyzed many of these techniques, detailing their mode of separation, while concentrating on recent developments and evaluating their prospects for application. Furthermore, this was done from a perspective where inertial effects are considered important and general performance metrics were proposed which would ease comparison of reported technologies. Lastly, we assess the current state of these technologies and suggest directions which may make them more accessible.
A wide range of microfluidic technologies have been developed to separate and sort cells by taking advantage of differences in their intrinsic biophysical properties