Researchers from Penn State, Ascent BioNano Technologies, and National Institutes of Health have collaborated to develop a cell sorting device that uses acoustic waves to do its job. Two acoustic wavefronts are used to create pressure nodes on the chip for each individual cell, helping to guide it down one of five channels. More channels could be added to a future version of the device, increasing the variety of cell types that can be analyzed at the same time.
The team believes that the technology can be miniaturized to the point that “could make Star Trek’s tricorder seem a bit bulky in comparison.”
Most current cell-sorting devices allow the cells to be sorted into only two channels in one step, according to Huang. He said that another drawback of current cell-sorting devices is that cells must be encapsulated into droplets, which complicates further analysis.
“Today, cell sorting is done on bulky and very expensive devices,” said Huang. “We want to minimize them so they are portable, inexpensive and can be powered by batteries.”
Using sound waves for cell sorting is less likely to damage cells than current techniques, Huang added.
In addition to the inefficiency and the lack of controllability, current methods produce aerosols, gases that require extra safety precautions to handle.