The characterization of single cells within heterogeneous populations has great impact on both biomedical sciences and cancer research. By investigating cellular compositions on a broad scale, pertinent outliers may be lost in the sample set. Alternatively, an investigation focused on the behavior of specific cells, such as circulating tumor cells (CTCs), will reveal genetic biomarkers or phenotypic characteristics associated with cancer and metastasis. On average, CTC concentration in peripheral blood is extremely low, as few as one to two per billion of healthy blood cells. Consequently, the critical element lacking in many methods of CTC detection is accurate cell capture efficiency at low concentrations. To simulate CTC isolation, researchers usually spike small amounts of tumor cells to healthy blood for separation. However, spiking tumor cells at extremely low concentrations is challenging in a standard laboratory setting. We report our study on an innovative apparatus and method designed for low-cost, precise, and replicable single-cell spiking (SCS). Our SCS method operates solely from capillary aspiration without the reliance on external laboratory equipment. To ensure that our method does not affect the viability of each cell, we investigated the effects of surface membrane tensions induced by aspiration. Finally, we performed affinity-based CTC isolation using human acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells (CCRF-CEM) spiked into healthy whole blood with the SCS technique. The results of the isolation experiments demonstrate the reliability of our method in generating low-concentration cell samples.

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