Issue 2, 2023

Image-based cell sorting using focused travelling surface acoustic waves


Sorting cells is an essential primary step in many biological and clinical applications such as high-throughput drug screening, cancer research and cell transplantation. Cell sorting based on their mechanical properties has long been considered as a promising label-free biomarker that could revolutionize the isolation of cells from heterogeneous populations. Recent advances in microfluidic image-based cell analysis combined with subsequent label-free sorting by on-chip actuators demonstrated the possibility of sorting cells based on their physical properties. However, the high purity of sorting is achieved at the expense of a sorting rate that lags behind the analysis throughput. Furthermore, stable and reliable system operation is an important feature in enabling the sorting of small cell fractions from a concentrated heterogeneous population. Here, we present a label-free cell sorting method, based on the use of focused travelling surface acoustic wave (FTSAW) in combination with real-time deformability cytometry (RT-DC). We demonstrate the flexibility and applicability of the method by sorting distinct blood cell types, cell lines and particles based on different physical parameters. Finally, we present a new strategy to sort cells based on their mechanical properties. Our system enables the sorting of up to 400 particles per s. Sorting is therefore possible at high cell concentrations (up to 36 million per ml) while retaining high purity (>92%) for cells with diverse sizes and mechanical properties moving in a highly viscous buffer. Sorting of small cell fraction from a heterogeneous population prepared by processing of small sample volume (10 μl) is also possible and here demonstrated by the 667-fold enrichment of white blood cells (WBCs) from raw diluted whole blood in a continuous 10-hour sorting experiment. The real-time analysis of multiple parameters together with the high sensitivity and high-throughput of our method thus enables new biological and therapeutic applications in the future.

Graphical abstract: Image-based cell sorting using focused travelling surface acoustic waves

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
11 Jul 2022
21 Nov 2022
First published
09 Jan 2023
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Lab Chip, 2023,23, 372-387

Image-based cell sorting using focused travelling surface acoustic waves

A. A. Nawaz, D. Soteriou, C. K. Xu, R. Goswami, M. Herbig, J. Guck and S. Girardo, Lab Chip, 2023, 23, 372 DOI: 10.1039/D2LC00636G

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