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A few little cells that are different from the rest can have a big effect. For example, individual cancer cells may be resistant to a specific chemotherapy–causing a relapse in a patient who would otherwise be cured. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, scientists have now introduced a microfluidics-based chip for the manipulation and subsequent nucleic-acid analysis of individual cells. The technique uses local electric fields to highly efficiently “trap” the cells (dielectrophoresis).

Molecular analyses of individual cells are necessary to better understand the role of heterogenous cell populations in the development of diseases and to develop effective therapies for personalized medicine. Identifying individual cells in a mass of other cells is an enormous challenge in diagnostic medicine. The cells must be sorted, held, transferred into another container with an extremely small volume (< 1 μL) and then must undergo molecular analysis. Conventional methods are usually very time consuming and complex, as well as unreliable and inefficient. They can also compromise the viability of the cells, require large sample volumes, have a high risk of contamination, and/or require expensive instruments.

Scientists from the University of Washington (Seattle, USA), Iowa State University (Ames, USA), and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle,

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