Emergent cell-free layer asymmetry and biased haematocrit partition in a biomimetic vascular network of successive bifurcation

Qi Zhou, Joana Fidalgo, Miguel O. Bernabeu, Mónica S. N. Oliveira, Timm Krüger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Blood is a vital soft matter, and its normal circulation in the human body relies on the distribution of red blood cells (RBCs) at successive bifurcations. Understanding how RBCs are partitioned at bifurcations is key for the optimisation of microfluidic devices as well as for devising novel strategies for diagnosis and treatment of blood-related diseases. We report the dynamics of RBC suspensions flowing through a biomimetic vascular network incorporating three generations of microchannels and two classical types of bifurcations at the arteriole level. Our microfluidic experiments with dilute and semidilute RBC suspensions demonstrate the emergence of excessive heterogeneity of RBC concentration in downstream generations upon altering the network's outflow rates. Through parallel simulations using the immersed-boundary-lattice-Boltzmann method, we reveal that the heterogeneity is attributed to upstream perturbations in the cell-free layer (CFL) and lack of its recovery between consecutive bifurcations owing to suppressed hydrodynamic lift under reduced flow conditions. In the dilute/semidilute regime, this perturbation dominates over the effect of local fractional flow at the bifurcation and can lead to inherently unfavourable child branches that are deprived of RBCs even for equal flow split. Our work highlights the importance of CFL asymmetry cascading down a vascular network, which leads to biased phase separation that deviates from established empirical predictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3619-3633
Number of pages15
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number13
Early online date6 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2021


  • blood
  • soft matter
  • biased haematocrit partition
  • biomimetic vascular network
  • bifurcations
  • cell-free layer (CFL)


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