Researchers from Singapore have developed a highly precise single-cell sorting alternative to the popular FACS that uses focused sound waves instead of harsher electric fields. Their detection mechanism also shrinks the instrument size, reduces its complexity and substantially lessens costs. In addition, it enables more accurate cell  sorting and leaves no damage to target cells.

Sound waves represent the mechanical vibration of matter that can propagate in gases, liquids and solids and ultimately manifests as what we detect as sound. With the advancement of science, utilization of sound waves is coming forward. Ultrasound is already used for therapeutic purposes and surgeries and not only as a diagnostic tool. Now, a sound wave based FACS cell sorting technology is one step away from commercial use.

A research group from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), led by Assistant Professor Dr. Ye Ai, has published a study on the novel cell-sorting technology in Lab on a Chip, a journal focused on research in innovative devices and applications at the microscale and nanoscale. The study is focused on the interactions between ultrasound and biological cells suspended in aqueous solutions.

Dr. Ai’s research group recently developed a highly accurate single-cell level sorting technology using a highly focused, 50 μm wide sound wave beam. 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 tagged with fluorescent labels, specific to their surface biomarkers, can be recognized by the fluorescence detection module. When a single target cell is detected, the system activates the sound wave generator to produce a pulsed, highly localized sound wave beam that can rapidly deflect the target cell to the collection outlet.

Single cell analysis could be useful for assessing the genetic heterogeneity of cancer among different patients and holds the potential for advancing towards precision medicine for cancer treatment. Research group has applied the modified FACS acoustic system to isolate fluorescently labeled MCF-7 breast cancer cells from diluted whole-blood samples. The cell viability before and after acoustic sorting was higher than 95%, which indicates excellent biocompatibility that should enable a variety of cell sorting applications in biomedical research.

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

According to a recent market analysis conducted by Markets and Markets Research Pte Ltd, the global market size of cell sorting was $ 3.57 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $ 7.89 billion by 2021. Dr. Ai’s group is seeking grants to commercialize this technology, which will facilitate the broad application of single cell analysis toward precision medicine.

Learn more about practical applications of sound in the video below:

Did you know that sound waves can put out fire?

By Andreja Gregoric, MSc

1 reply
  1. Klemen
    Klemen says:

    It’s almost like you’re telling the cells where to go. Reminds me of the airports where people are yelling at you in which lane to go :)

Comments are closed.