Automated fluorescence quantification of extracellular vesicles collected from blood plasma using dielectrophoresis

Kyle T. Gustafson, Katherine T. Huynh, Daniel Heineck, Jesus Bueno, Augusta Modestino, Sejung Kim, Austin Gower, Randall Armstrong, Carolyn E. Schutt, Stuart D. Ibsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Tumor-secreted exosomes and other extracellular vesicles (EVs) in circulation contain valuable biomarkers for early cancer detection and screening. We have previously demonstrated collection of cancer-derived nanoparticles (NPs) directly from whole blood and plasma with a chip-based technique that uses a microelectrode array to generate dielectrophoretic (DEP) forces. This technique enables direct recovery of NPs from whole blood and plasma. The biomarker payloads associated with collected particles can be detected and quantified with immunostaining. Accurately separating the fluorescence intensity of stained biomarkers from background (BG) levels becomes a challenge when analyzing the blood from early-stage cancer patients in which biomarker concentrations are low. To address this challenge, we developed two complementary techniques to standardize the quantification of fluorescently immunolabeled biomarkers collected and concentrated at predictable locations within microfluidic chips. The first technique was an automated algorithm for the quantitative analysis of fluorescence intensity at collection regions within the chip compared to levels at adjacent regions. The algorithm used predictable locations of particle collection within the chip geometry to differentiate regions of collection and BG. We successfully automated the identification and removal of optical artifacts from quantitative calculations. We demonstrated that the automated system performs nearly the same as a human user following a standard protocol for manual artifact removal with Pearson'sr-values of 0.999 and 0.998 for two different biomarkers (n= 36 patients). We defined a usable dynamic range of fluorescence intensities corresponding to 1 to 2000 arbitrary units (a.u.). Fluorescence intensities within the dynamic range increased linearly with respect to exposure time and particle concentration. The second technique was the implementation of an internal standard to adjust levels of biomarker fluorescence based on the relative collection efficiency of the chip. Use of the internal standard reduced variability in measured biomarker levels due to differences in chip-to-chip collection efficiency, especially at low biomarker concentrations. The internal standard did not affect linear trends between fluorescence intensity and exposure time. Adjustments using the internal standard improved linear trends between fluorescence intensity and particle concentration. The optical quantification techniques described in this paper can be easily adapted for other lab-on-a-chip platforms that have predefined regions of biomarker or particle collection and that rely on fluorescence detection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1318-1332
Number of pages15
JournalLab on a Chip
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 7 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biomedical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Automated fluorescence quantification of extracellular vesicles collected from blood plasma using dielectrophoresis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this