New cell sorting technology could replace fluorescent and magnetic technologies

Dr. Prentiss’ lab has developed a new cell sorting technology based on microfluidics. This technique enables manipulation of non-magnetic micro- and nano-entities, including cells, immersed in magnetic fluids. Compared to existing MACS and FACS cell sorters, this technique uses simple equipment that is significantly and measurable faster, cheaper, and easier to use than MACS and FACS cell sorters.

MACS cell sorting relies on magnetic tagging of antigens on cells. When the cell mixture is passed through a strong magnetic field, the cells expressing the antigens are captured and the other cells are released. FACS cell sorting uses multiple lasers to detect and measure the different light scattering and fluorescent characteristics of cells, one-by-one, and then physically separates the cells based on the cells fluorescent measurement. Dr. Prentiss’ technique uses magnetic fields to separate cells, greatly simplifying the cell sorting process and equipment required to support it.

In addition to simplifying the process, this new technology speeds up cell sorting rates. FACS can sort cells in speeds ranging from 10,000 cells per second up to about 50,000 cells per second (depending on cell suspension, cell size, and other factors); whereas MACS can sort cells up to speeds of 10 million cells per second. Because the new non-magnetic cell sorting technology is based on microfluidics, it can be easily and cost-effectively scaled to process billions of cells per second.


Throughout the biological, medical, and pharmaceutical fields, cell sorting is used for research and some clinical practices. In research, cell sorting is already used to count, characterize, and analyze living cells and their particles. In clinical practices, it is mostly reserved for diagnostics.

Cell sorting could be used much more extensively, but the existing technologies, fluorescently activated cell sorting (FACS™) and magnetically activated cell sorting (MACS®), are expensive. Usually, cell sorting equipment is limited to a single lab within a large institution, such as a university, and that lab sorts cells for other researchers and clinicians.

Dr. Prentiss’ team developed a new cell sorting technology that could dramatically expand the availability of cell sorting equipment, and thereby the use of cell sorting. The new process is orders of magnitude faster, better, and less expensive than FACS and MACS. If cell sorting cell equipment could become more commonly available, it could be make many applications such as these more available and viable:

• Biological research – Identify and characterize cells and cell populations in complex systems in molecular biology, protein engineering, plant biology, and marine biology; and prepare pure sources of stem cells.
• Medical diagnostics – Determine if there are cancer cells in a patient’s system (to head off cancer metastasis); precisely diagnose leukemia and lymphomas using blood plasma samples instead of bone marrow tests; analyze tissue specimens from patients; and analyze human DNA and determine if there are risks for hereditary diseases.
• Clinical practice – Develop sources of purified cells to treat neurological degenerative disease through transplantation; improve understanding of tumor immunology and treatment by evaluating pure samples of tumor cells; and rescue healthy cells and re-introduce them into patients undergoing chemotherapy to reduce the side effects of chemotherapeutics.
• Drug discovery – Isolate and grow living tissue for drug experimentation.

U.S. Patent(s) Issued: US8689981B2