Label-free biosensor of phagocytosis for diagnosing bacterial infections

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

17 Scopus Citations
View graph of relations


Original languageEnglish
Article number113412
Journal / PublicationBiosensors and Bioelectronics
Online published11 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


Phagocytic cells recognize and phagocytose invading microbes for destruction. However, bacterial pathogens can remain hidden at low levels from conventional detection or replicate intracellularly after being phagocytosed by immune cells. Current phagocytosis-detection approaches involve flow cytometry or microscopic search for rare bacteria-internalized phagocytes among large populations of uninfected cells, which poses significant challenges in research and clinical settings. Hence it is imperative to develop a rapid, non-disruptive, and label-free phagocytosis detection approach. Using deformability assays and microscopic imaging, we have demonstrated for the first time that the presence of intracellular bacteria in phagocytic blood cells led to aberrant physical properties. Specifically, human monocytes with internalized bacteria of various species were stiffer and larger compared with uninfected monocytes. Taking advantage of these physical differences, a novel microfluidics-based biosensor platform was developed to passively sort, concentrate and quantify rare monocytes with internalized pathogens (MIP) from uninfected monocyte populations for phagocytosis detection. The clinical utility of the MIP platform was demonstrated by enriching and detecting bacteria-internalized monocytes from spiked human blood samples within 1.5 h. Patient-derived clinical isolates were used to validate the utility of the MIP platform further. This proof-of-concept presents a phagocytosis detection platform that could be used to rapidly diagnose microbial infections, especially in bloodstream infections (BSIs), thereby improving the clinical outcomes for point-of-care management.

Research Area(s)

  • Phagocytosis, Microfluidics, Infections, Diagnosis