Magnetism aids futuristic cell research

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Article Highlight | 2-May-2022

A new platform efficiently sorts and groups individual cells based on their physical properties and could provide clues for understanding individual cell interactions.

DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

Scientists from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Korea Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) successfully sorted individual cells by size by jumping them off magnetic trampolines and into different grouping rooms. They published their results in the journal Advanced sciences.

Cells interact with each other in various ways, through contact at cell junctions, for example, or when one cell ingests another. How cells interact depends on several factors, including their size and number. Understanding the effects of cell size and number on cellular interactions is important in studying the formation and spread of cancer, as well as for studying the immune system. But currently, satisfactory approaches to sort individual cells based on their physical characteristics are lacking.

CheolGi Kim and Byeonghwa Lim from the Department of Emerging Materials Science at DGIST led a team of researchers to develop a “magnetophoretic micro-distributor circuit” capable of sorting individual cells by size and number. Cells attached by antibodies to magnetic beads are placed in the micro-magnetic circuit. Under the influence of a rotating magnetic field, they move through the circuit until they fall onto a magnetic trampoline. If a cell’s size is suitable for this specifically designed trampoline, it will jump across a junction and continue moving until it reaches its assembly room. Cells that are the wrong size cross the junction and reach other trampolines, each individually designed to only blast cells of a particular size into their respective rooms. The cell grouping platform allows for programmable control of the size and number of cells in each room by integrating the magnetic trampolines with electrical current transistors.

Trampolines are tiny elliptical magnetic discs made from a nickel-iron alloy and coated with Teflon. The elliptical shape of each trampoline in the circuit is slightly modified by altering its length to width ratio, called the aspect ratio. A repulsive force forms which causes the jumping action when the cells attached to the micromagnet reach a trampoline with the appropriate aspect ratio.

“Our platform was able to separate cells that differed in size by only 1 to 2 micrometers with an efficiency of 88.6 percent,” says Kim.

Researchers have successfully used the platform to train various number and size groups of immune and cancer cells. This driver could be used to develop an efficient cell-on-chip platform to control cell size and number in cell interaction experiments. It could also be used in new platforms for disease diagnosis, for precision personalized care, and for drug development and screening.

Caption for image 1: Cells can be controlled and grouped according to their size and number using magnet-based devices.

Image 2 caption: The DGIST platform separates the cells by a skipping mechanism, distributing them by size into their respective grouping rooms.

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