Rheology of red blood cells under flow in highly confined microchannels: I. effect of elasticity

We analyze the rheology of dilute red blood cell suspensions in pressure driven flows at low Reynolds number, in terms of the morphologies and elasticity of the cells. We focus on narrow channels of width similar to the cell diameter, when the interactions with the walls dominate the cell dynamics. The suspension presents a shear-thinning behaviour, with a Newtonian-behaviour at low shear rates, an intermediate region of strong decay of the suspension viscosity, and an asymptotic regime at high shear rates in which the effective viscosity converges to that of the solvent. We identify the relevant aspects of cell elasticity that contribute to the rheological response of blood at high confinement. In a second paper, we will explore the focusing of red blood cells while flowing at high shear rates and how this effect is controlled by the geometry of the channel.