Publication Date

Fall 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Anand . Ramasubramanian


chronic fatigue syndrome, imaging, microfluidics, Red blood cell deformability

Subject Areas

Chemical engineering; Biomedical engineering


Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a disease that causes profound fatigue in its sufferers as well as loss of concentration, headaches, and sleep abnormalities. Unfortunately, the disease is poorly diagnosed, and etiology is not known. Although the ME/CFS patients do not show anemic readings, and their arterial partial pressure is normal, it is possible that their extreme post-exertional malaise stems from poor microvascular perfusion and oxygenation. Previous studies have indicated that the red blood cells (RBCs) in ME/CFS patients show evidence of oxidative damage. We hypothesized that the RBC deformability metrics can serve as a reliable biomarker of ME/CFS diagnosis. A corollary to this hypothesis in that the loss of RBC function could result in tissue oxygenation and microvascular perfusion being impaired which could manifest in ME/CFS’s symptoms. To test this hypothesis, RBCs were fed through a custom microfluidic device from both healthy control and ME/CFS patients while a high-speed camera recorded the movement of RBCs through the channels. Using imaging software, different deformability metrics were measured including the velocity of the RBC through the device and changes in the shape of the RBC. We found the stiffness of the RBCs in ME/CFS patients was modestly, but significantly increased compared to those of the RBCs from healthy controls. These conclusions suggest that RBC deformability may serve as a biomarker for ME/CFS and that the impaired RBC transport through capillaries/microvessels could explain some of the ME/CFS symptoms.

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