It seems like that should be easy, but it isnt, he said. There are other ways of accomplishing the same kind of cell separation, but they require complex and expensive equipment, or are limited in the number of cells they can process.
The new system uses a simple transparent silicone layer bonded to a conventional glass microscope slide. Fabricated in the layer are a series of tiny cavities, or traps, in which cells settle out after being added to the slide in a solution. Up to 10,000 cells could be sorted on a single slide.
Looking through the microscope, either a technician or a computerized system can check each cell to determine whether it has fluorescence in the right area or at the right time to meet the selection criteria. If so, its position is noted by the computer. At the end of the selection process, all of the cells whose positions were recorded are then levitated out of their traps using the pressure of a beam of targeted light from a low-cost laser. A flowing fluid then sweeps the selected cells off to a separate reservoir.
The laser levitation of the cells acts like a fire hose pushing up a beach ball, Voldman says. But the laser method is gentle enough that the living cells remain viable after the process is complete, allowing further biological testing.
Voldman and Kovac are continuing to refine the system, working on making it easier to use and on improving its ability to keep samples sterile. Voldman says that unlike expensive separation techniques such as optical tweezers, the new system could cost only a few thousand dollars. As a result, it could be employed in a variety of biological research laboratories or clinical settings, not just in big, centralized testing facilities.
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology