An automated centrifugal microfluidic assay for whole blood fractionation and isolation of multiple cell populations using an aqueous two-phase system†
Fractionating whole blood and separating its constituent components one from another is an essential step in many clinical applications. Currently blood sample handling and fractionation processes remain a predominantly manual task that require well-trained operators to produce reliable and reproducible results. Herein, we demonstrate an advanced on-chip whole human blood fractionation and cell isolation process combining (i) an aqueous two-phase system (ATPS) to create complex separation layers with (ii) a centrifugal microfluidic platform (PowerBlade) with active pneumatic pumping to control and automate the assay. We use a polyethylene glycol (PEG) and dextran (DEX) mixture as the two-phase density gradient media and our automated centrifugal microfluidic platform to fractionate blood samples. Different densities of precisely tuned PEG–DEX solutions were tested to match each of the cell types typically targeted during blood fractionation applications. By employing specially designed microfluidic devices, we demonstrate the automation of the following steps: loading of a whole blood sample on-chip, layering of the blood on the ATPS solution, blood fractionation, precise radial repositioning of the fractionated layers, and finally extraction of multiple, selected fractionated components. Fractionation of up to six distinct layers is shown: platelet-rich plasma, buffy coat, PEG, DEX with neutrophils, red blood cells (RBCs) and high density gradient media (HDGM). Furthermore, through controlled dispensing of HDGM to the fractionation chamber, we show that each of the fractionated layers can be repositioned radially, on-the-fly, without disturbing the interfaces, allowing precise transfer of target fractions and cell types into external vials via a chip-to-world interface. Cell counting analysis and cell viability studies showed equivalence to traditional, manual methods. An overall cell viability greater than 90% of extracted cells demonstrates that the proposed approach is suitable for cell isolation applications. This proof-of-principle demonstration highlights the utility of the proposed system for automated whole blood fractionation and isolation for blood cell applications. We anticipate that the proposed approach will be a useful tool for many clinical applications such as standard cell isolation procedures and other bioanalytical assays (e.g., circulating tumor cells, and cell and gene therapy).