The Dielectrophoresis Network

at the University of Surrey

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High-speed, low-loss cell separation

Cell separation is a basic process in cell biology.  The ability to select a particular cell type for culturing, or extract one kind of cell for diagnostic or therapeutic peurposes, has been available since density centrifugation arrived in the 1970s.  However, beyond density methods - which are useful for separating red and white blood cells but are not widely useful beyond that - there are two methods which allow selectivity: FACS (fluorescently activated cell sorting) and MACS (magnetically activated cell sorting).  DEP sorting was developed but was limited by throughput; whereas FACS and MACS could sort 10,000 cells a second, DEP struggled to match 1% of that, and was stricken with the usual issues of microfabricated devices - low throughput, high cost, high losses, and being destroyed by bubbles.

 

We solved this problem using our DEP-Well platform; four hundred wells each having electrodes striped down the inside made for 400 parallel DEP deparation chambers.  Bubbles were never an issue - a blocked well doesn't affect the other 399.  Throughput was solved by massively parallel fluid paths.  When we tried it we found we could achieve 85% separation but with no losses, it was simple just to run it through the device again.  We called this Electro-Physiologically Activated Cell Enrichment, EPACE.  And when we tried it for speed, we realised we had one of the fastest cell separators in the world.

 

A billion cells.   Separating at over 150,000 cells a second.  Label free, with 3% cell loss.  For $15.

 

Putting that in perspective, FACS and MACS can separate at up to about 20,000 cells a second, using expensive labels, and lose up to 50% of the target cells.  And unlike a $500k FACS machine, EPACE fits on your lab benchtop, uses consumable chips and costs a fraction to buy and run.

 

We could hardly heep that to ourselves, and have founded the world's first DEP separation company - Deparator - to develop this commerically.  Prototypes are currently undergonig tests and we envision commercial release later this year.

2018-02-13 11.40.17