Stem cells are making media headlines with the promise of innovative treatments for ailments, injuries and diseases as diverse as burns, chronic heat failure, vascular disease, leukaemia and a multitude of other cancers. In order to provide stem cells for research and treatment, they must be isolated from other cells like human bone marrow, peripheral blood and cord blood.
Current stem cell isolation technology is expensive and time consuming while using bulky equipment. The equipment used is nondisposable and therefore the threat of contamination is ever present.
Although the current equipment is largely suitable for present stem cell demands, successful adoption of stem cell therapies will mean a massive increase in the quantity of cells required. Cheaper, faster and more convenient sorting mechanisms will be required to meet this future demand.
MEMS Sorting Technology
Research into using MEMS to sort stem cells seeks to improve throughput times by at least a factor of five in a desktop unit using dedicated, disposable fluid paths.
The most promising system uses a massively parallel microfluidics system incorporated onto a sterile single chip that is designed for single usage.
The blood sample is introduced onto the chip and flows into microchannels. Conventional fluorophore technology is used to tag the cells. Under laser illumination a photomultiplier tube detector can identify the stem cells and microvalves direct the stem cells away from the base fluid and into a collector channel.