Microfluidic cell sorting: a review of the advances in the separation of cells from debulking to rare cell isolation
Accurate and high throughput cell sorting is a critical enabling technology in molecular and cellular biology, biotechnology, and medicine. While conventional methods can provide high efficiency sorting in short timescales, advances in microfluidics have enabled the realization of miniaturized devices offering similar capabilities that exploit a variety of physical principles. We classify these technologies as either active or passive. Active systems generally use external fields (e.g., acoustic, electric, magnetic, and optical) to impose forces to displace cells for sorting, whereas passive systems use inertial forces, filters, and adhesion mechanisms to purify cell populations. Cell sorting on microchips provides numerous advantages over conventional methods by reducing the size of necessary equipment, eliminating potentially biohazardous aerosols, and simplifying the complex protocols commonly associated with cell sorting. Additionally, microchip devices are well suited for parallelization, enabling complete lab-on-a-chip devices for cellular isolation, analysis, and experimental processing. In this review, we examine the breadth of microfluidic cell sorting technologies, while focusing on those that offer the greatest potential for translation into clinical and industrial practice and that offer multiple, useful functions. We organize these sorting technologies by the type of cell preparation required (i.e., fluorescent label-based sorting, bead-based sorting, and label-free sorting) as well as by the physical principles underlying each sorting mechanism.