Faraghat S, Hoettges K, Steinbach M, Van Der Veen DR, Brackenbury W, Henslee E, Labeed F, Hughes MP (2017) High-Throughput, Low-Loss, Low-Cost and Label-Free Cell Separation using Electrophysiology Activated Cell Enrichment (EPACE), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (8) pp. 4591-4596
National Academy of Sciences
Currently, cell separation occurs almost exclusively by density gradient methods and by fluorescence- and magnetic-activated cell sorting (FACS/MACS). These variously suffer from lack of specificity, high cell loss, use of labels, and high capital/operating cost. We present a dielectrophoresis (DEP)-based cell separation method, using 3D electrodes on a low-cost disposable chip; one cell type is allowed to pass through the chip whilst the other is retained and subsequently recovered. The method advances usability and throughput of DEP separation by orders of magnitude in throughput, efficiency, purity, recovery (cells arriving in the correct output fraction), cell losses (those which are unaccounted for at the end of the separation) and cost. The system was evaluated using three example separations; live and dead yeast; human cancer cells/red blood cells; and rodent fibroblasts/red blood cells. A single-pass protocol can enrich cells with cell recovery of up to 91.3% at over 300,000 cells/second with >3% cell loss. A two-pass protocol can process 300,000,000 cells in under 30 minutes, with cell recovery of up to 96.4% and cell losses below 5%, an effective processing rate >160,000 cells/second. A three-step protocol is shown to be effective for removal of 99.1% of RBCs spiked with 1% cancer cells, whilst maintaining a processing rate of ~170,000 cells/second. Furthermore, the self-contained and low-cost nature of the separator device means that it has potential application in low-contamination applications such as cell therapies, where GMP compatibility is of paramount importance. Significance statement. Cell separation is a fundamental process in biomedicine, but is presently complicated, cumbersome and expensive. We present a technique that can sort cells at a rate equivalent to or faster than gold-standard techniques such as FACS and MACs, but can do label-free and with very low cell loss. The system uses dielectrophoresis (DEP) to sort cells electrostatically, using a novel electrode chip that eschews microfabrication in favour of a laminate drilled with 397 electrode-bearing wells. This high level of parallelisation makes the system immune to the bubbles that limit labs-on-chip, whilst also increasing capacity and throughput to unprecedented levels, whilst the chip is cheap enough to be disposable, preventing inter-separation contamination.