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In our experiments with NCI-H1650 lung cancer cell lines labeled with magnetic nanoparticles via the Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule (EpCAM) antigen, we demonstrate capture efficiencies above 90% even at sample flow rates of 5 ml/h through our microfabricated magnetic sifter. We also improve the elution efficiencies from between 50% and 60% to close to 90% via optimization of the permanent magnet size and position used to magnetize the sifter. We then explain our observations via the use of finite element software for magnetic field and field gradient distributions, and a particle tracing algorithm, illustrating the impact of magnetic field gradients on the performance of the magnetic sifter. The high capture and elution efficiencies observed here is especially significant for magnetic separation of biologically interesting but rare moieties such as cancer stem cells for downstream analysis.