The Dielectrophoresis Network
at the University of Surrey
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.