Confocal backscattering-based detection of leukemic cells in flowing blood samples



The prognostic value of assessing minimal residual disease (MRD) in leukemia has been established with advancements in flow cytometry and PCR. Nonetheless, these techniques are limited by high equipment costs, complex, and costly cell processing and the need for highly trained personnel. Here, we demonstrate the potential of exploiting differences in the relative intensities of backscattered light at three wavelengths to detect the presence of leukemic cells in samples containing varying mixtures of white blood cells (WBCs) and leukemic cells flowing through microfluidic channels. Using 405, 488, and 633 nm illumination, we identify distinct light scattering intensity distributions for Nalm-6 leukemic cells, normal mononuclear (PBMC) and polymorphonuclear (PMN) white blood cells and red blood cells. We exploit these differences to develop cell classification algorithms, whose performance is evaluated based on simultaneous acquisition of light scattering and fluorescence flow cytometry data. When this algorithm is used prospectively for the analysis of samples consisting of mixtures of PBMCs and leukemic cells, we achieve an average specificity and sensitivity of leukemic cell detection of 99.6 and 45.2%, respectively. When we consider samples that include leukemic cells along with PMNs and PBMCs, which can be acquired using a simple red blood cell lysis step following venipuncture, the specificity and sensitivity of the approach decreases to 91.6 and 39.5%, respectively. On the basis of the performance of these algorithms, we estimate that 42 or 71 μL of blood would be adequate to confirm the presence of leukemia at an 80% power level in samples containing 0.01% leukemia to either PBMCs or PBMCs and PMNs, respectively. Therefore, light scattering-based flow cytometry in a microfluidic platform could provide a low cost, highly portable, minimally invasive approach for detection and monitoring of leukemic patients. This could offer significant improvements especially for pediatric patients and for patients in developing countries. © 2011 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry