During a sickle cell crisis in sickle cell anemia patients, deoxygenated red blood cells may change their mechanical properties and block small blood vessels, causing pain, local tissue damage and even organ failure. Measuring these cellular structural and morphological changes is important for understanding the factors contributing to vessel blockage and developing an effective treatment. In this work, we use spectrally encoded flow cytometry for confocal, high-resolution imaging of flowing blood cells from sickle cell anemia patients. A wide variety of cell morphologies were observed by analyzing the interference patterns resulting from reflections from the front and back faces of the cells’ membrane. Using numerical simulation for calculating the two-dimensional reflection pattern from the cells, we propose an analytical expression for the three-dimensional shape of a characteristic sickle cell and compare it to a previous from the literature. In vitro spectrally encoded flow cytometry offers new means for analyzing the morphology of sickle cells in stress-free environment, and could provide an effective tool for studying the unique physiological properties of these cells.
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