A new device to identify and organise human cells could improve understanding of molecular mechanisms and boost personalised medicine.
Developed at University of Exeter‘s Living Systems Institute, the Functional Phenotype Flow Cytometer (FPFC) device can examine and separate single cells on the basis of their response to stimuli. This allows scientists, for the first time, to sort cells by their function, and by the strength of the response, in greater granularity than ever before.
The research, funded by by the BBSRC with support from the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Swiss National Science Foundation, has been published in Advanced Biology.
A greater understanding of human cells
By detecting whether a specific drug is likely to work for a patient before it is administered, this new technology has the potential to improve personalised medicine.
Before they enter the device, the cells are exposed to a biological reagent solution, which means the brighter their florescent glow, the stronger the response. The technique performs three consequent cell processing steps on a novel microfluidic chip: it monitors individual cell response across the population, incubates cells with a stimulus, and sorts the responsive cells in real time. The device can profile and sort hundreds of cells depending on their functional response and, crucially, can detect the strength of the response.
Dr Chimerel said: “Our device allows cells to be sorted into sub-groups in a far more refined way than ever before. We can see not only their function, but how effective it is. We’re excited to see how this research will develop, with a longer-term aim of translation into commercial use. On a basic level, this has the potential to help us make huge advances into understanding our own cellular make-up. An obvious application is in testing drug response – by exposing the patient’s cells to a drug in our device, we will get a very good indication of whether it will prove effective, meaning we have a much better chance of choosing the right drug first time, improving care and reducing unnecessary side effects.”
The University of Exeter has filed a patent application on the technology and is seeking a commercial partner to further co-develop or in licence the technology and translate the positive proof of concept findings towards commercialisation.