The laser-diffraction technique has been applied to design a slit rheometer for measuring red blood cell deformability over a range of shear stress. Flow-rate and pressure-drop measurements are replaced with a measurement of pressure variation with time. Using a precision pressure transducer, one can measure the variation of pressure in the vacuum chamber, p(t), from which the shear stress and shear rate are mathematically calculated. In addition, a laser beam traverses a diluted blood suspension and is diffracted by red blood cells (RBCs) in the volume. The diffraction patterns are captured by a charge coupled device-video camera, linked to a frame grabber integrated with a computer. When deforming under decreasing shear stress, RBCs change gradually from the prolate ellipsoid towards a circular biconcave morphology. The elongation index as a measure of RBC deformability is determined from an isointensity curve in the diffraction pattern using an ellipse-fitting program. The advantages of this design are simplicity, i.e., ease of operation and no moving parts, low cost, short operating time, and the disposable kit which is in contact with the blood sample. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.