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Cell sorting actuated by a microfluidic inertial vortex

The sorting of specific cell populations is an established tool in biological research, with new applications demanding greater cell throughput, sterility and elimination of cross-contamination. Here we report ‘vortex-actuated cell sorting’ (VACS), a new technique that deflects cells individually, via the generation of a transient microfluidic vortex by a thermal vapour bubble: a novel mechanism, which is able to sort cells based on fluorescently-labelled molecular markers. Using in silico simulation and experiments on beads, an immortal cell line and human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), we demonstrate high-purity and high-recovery sorting with input rates up to 104 cells per s and switching speeds comparable to existing techniques (>40 kHz). A tiny footprint (1 × 0.25 mm) affords miniaturization and the potential to achieve multiplexing: a crucial step in increasing processing rate. Simple construction using biocompatible materials potentially minimizes cost of fabrication and permits single-use sterile cartridges. We believe VACS potentially enables parallel sorting at throughputs relevant to cell therapy, liquid biopsy and phenotypic screening.

Lab Chip, 2019, Advance Articl, 10.1039/C9LC00120D

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