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Microchip separates WBCs from whole blood samples

Posted: 07 Aug 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:microchip? white blood cell? blood sample? P-selectin? neutrophil?

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed last year a postage stamp-sized microchip that can sort cells through a technique, known as cell rolling, that mimics a natural mechanism in the body. The device separated leukemia cells from cell culturesbut could not extract cells directly from blood. The same group now has unleashed a microchip that can quickly separate white blood cells from samples of whole blood, eliminating any preliminary processing stepsthat can be difficult to integrate into point-of-care medical devices.

In their experiments, the scientists pumped tiny volumes of blood through the microchip and recovered a highly pure stream of white blood cells, virtually devoid of other blood components such as platelets and red blood cells. What's more, the team found that the sorted cells were undamaged and functional, potentially enabling clinicians not only to obtain a white blood cell count, but also to use the cells to perform further genetic or clinical tests.

Microfluidic chip works by mimicking the physiological process of cell rolling

Figure 1: The chip works by mimicking the physiological process of 'cell rolling' where patterns of adhesive molecules are used to draw out neutrophils (blue) from a stream of blood (red) into a parallel buffer stream as shown in the bottom panel.

Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said the key to recovering such pure, functional cells lies in the microchip's adaption of the body's natural process of cell rolling. "We believe that because we're using a very biomimetic process, the cells are happier," Karnik stated. "It's a more gentle process, and the cells are functionally viable."

Karnik and MIT graduate student Suman Bose, along with Jeffrey Karp at Brigham and Women's Hospital and five other colleagues, published their results in the journal Scientific Reports.

Normally, the body's protective white blood cells circulate through the bloodstream, patrolling for signs of pathogens. When one region of the body becomes infected or inflamed, cells lining the blood vessels in that region present certain sticky molecules that gently grab white blood cells from the bloodstream, "rolling" the cells along the vessel wall until they reach the afflicted area.

The sticky molecules act as cell traffickers, directing particular cells to areas of the body where they're needed. One of the more common cell traffickers is P-selectin, a molecule that lightly binds the white blood cells called neutrophils.

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