Sorting Cells Using Sound Waves

Sound waves could replace more expensive electric fields as a way to accurately sort biological cells for research and diagnostics.

AsianScientist (Oct. 26, 2017) – In a study published in Lab on a Chip, scientists in Singapore have discovered a method to accurately sort biological cells using sound waves for research and diagnostics purposes.

Currently, sorting and isolation of rare cell populations is typically performed using the fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) system, a technology developed nearly 60 years ago. However, current FACS systems are complex, bulky and expensive, require highly trained personnel for operation, and may produce bio-hazardous aerosols in open environments. Microfluidics technology capable of precise cell manipulation has great potential to reinvent the next-generation cell sorting technology.

In this study, a research team from the Singapore University of Technology and Design led by Assistant Professor Dr. Ai Ye studied the interactions between ultrasound and micron-sized objects, such as biological cells suspended in aqueous solutions. They designed and built an acoustic sorting system that included a disposable microfluidic channel, a reusable sound wave generator and a fluorescence detection module.

Target cells with fluorescent labels specific to their surface biomarkers were recognized by the fluorescence detection module. Upon the detection of a single target cell, the system activated the sound wave generator to produce a pulsed, highly focused sound wave beam that can rapidly deflect the target cell to the collection outlet. The sound wave beam, with a width of 50 μm, is highly localized, enabling accurate sorting at the single cell level.

“Compared to conventional FACS systems, the merits of this cell sorting technology includes a substantially simplified sorting mechanism that shrinks the instrument size, reduces its complexity and substantially lowers costs,” said Ai. “Not only that, it also enables more accurate single cell-level sorting and leaves no damage on target cells because sound waves are much gentler than electric fields widely used in conventional FACS systems.”

The team has developed and demonstrated a fully functional laboratory prototype system and is currently seeking grants to commercialize this technology as a benchtop instrument that has wide applications in biological research, clinical diagnosis and cell-based therapeutics.

The article can be found at: Ma et al. (2017) Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting via a Focused Traveling Surface Acoustic Beam.


Source: Singapore University of Technology and Design.
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