A simple add-on microfluidic appliance for accurately sorting small populations of cells with high fidelity

Grad, Michael
Young, Erik
Smilenov, Lubomir
Brenner, David
Attinger, Daniel
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Current advances in single cell sequencing, gene expression and proteomics require the isolation of single cells, frequently from a very small source population. In this work we describe the design and characterization of a manually operated microfluidic cell sorter that (1) can accurately sort single or small groups of cells from very small cell populations with minimal losses, (2) that is easy to operate and that can be used in any laboratory that has a basic fluorescent microscope and syringe pump, (3) that can be assembled within minutes, (4) that can sort cells in very short time (minutes) with minimum cell stress, (5) that is cheap and reusable. This microfluidic sorter is made from hard plastic material (PMMA) into which microchannels are directly milled with hydraulic diameter of 70 µm. Inlet and outlet reservoirs are drilled through the chip. Sorting occurs through hydrodynamic switching ensuring low hydrodynamic shear stresses, which were modeled and experimentally confirmed to be below the cell damage threshold. Manually operated, the maximum sorting frequencies were approximately 10 cells min−1. Experiments verified that cell sorting operations could be achieved in as little as 15 min, including the assembly and testing of the sorter. In only one out of ten sorting experiments the sorted cells were contaminated with another cell type. This microfluidic cell sorter represents an important capability for protocols requiring fast isolation of single cells from small number of rare cell populations.


This is an author's manuscript of an article from Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering 23 (2013): 117003, doi:10.1088/0960-1317/23/11/117003. Posted with permission.