To measure erythrocyte deformability in vitro, we made transparent microchannels on a crystal substrate as a capillary model. We observed axisymmetrically deformed erythrocytes and defined a deformation index directly from individual flowing erythrocytes. By appropriate choice of channel width and erythrocyte velocity, we could observe erythrocytes deforming to a parachute-like shape similar to that occurring in capillaries. The flowing erythrocytes magnified 200-fold through microscopy were recorded with an image-intensified high-speed video camera system. The sensitivity of deformability measurement was confirmed by comparing the deformation index in healthy controls with erythrocytes whose membranes were hardened by glutaraldehyde. We confirmed that the crystal microchannel system is a valuable tool for erythrocyte deformability measurement. Microangiopathy is a characteristic complication of diabetes mellitus. A decrease in erythrocyte deformability may be part of the cause of this complication. In order to identify the difference in erythrocyte deformability between control and diabetic erythrocytes, we measured erythrocyte deformability using transparent crystal microchannels and a high-speed video camera system. The deformability of diabetic erythrocytes was indeed measurably lower than that of erythrocytes in healthy controls. This result suggests that impaired deformability in diabetic erythrocytes can cause altered viscosity and increase the shear stress on the microvessel wall.
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