Simulation of malaria-infected red blood cells in microfluidic channels: passage and blockage

Tenghu Wu & James J. Feng

Biomicrofluidics 7, 044115 (2013).

Abstract - Malaria-infected red blood cells (iRBCs) become less deformable with the progression of infection, and tend to occlude microcapillaries. This process has been investigated in vitro using microfluidic channels. The objective of this paper is to provide a quantitative basis for interpreting the experimental observations of iRBC occlusion of microfluidic channels. Using a particle-based model for the iRBC, we simulate the traverse of iRBCs through a converging microfluidic channel, and explore the progressive loss of cell deformability due to three factors: the stiffening of the membrane, the reduction of the cell's surface-volume ratio, and the growing solid parasites inside the cell. When examined individually, each factor tends to hinder the passage of the iRBC and lengthen the transit time. Moreover, at sufficient magnitude each may lead to obstruction of narrow microfluidic channels. We then integrate the three factors into a series of simulations that mimic the development of malaria infection through the ring, trophozoite and schizont stages. These simulations successfully reproduce the experimental observation that with progression of infection, the iRBC transitions from passage to blockage in larger and larger channels. The numerical results suggest a scheme for quantifying iRBC rigidification through microfluidic measurements of the critical pressure required for passage.