BD unveils high-throughput cell sorter that merges fluorescence with visual imaging

For researchers trying to find a single type of cell among tens of thousands, BD has outlined a new high-speed sorting technology that could help do more than just find the proverbial needle in the haystack, but also categorize each individual strand of hay itself.

By combining flow cytometry methods with not only fluorescence scans but also rapid microscopic imaging, BD’s CellView technology aims to classify discrete cells based on their visual details in addition to their protein biomarkers—using a massive torrent of data as cells rush past sensors at speeds up to 15,000 per second.

“This innovation has overcome the typical compromise between speed and precision of sorting individual cells,” BD President and CEO Tom Polen said in a statement. “This breakthrough essentially equates to a researcher looking into a microscope, identifying specific characteristics of a cell of interest, and based on what they see, sorting each individual cell for further analysis—all at a rate of nearly 1 million cells every minute.”

That translates to more than 1,000 times the amount of data generated compared to traditional flow cytometry methods, Polen added. 

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Fluorescence-based cell sorting, a more than 50-year-old technology, has been able to isolate different types of cells based on the amount of proteins expressed when tagged with specific light-producing molecules in different colors. However, this approach hasn’t been able to picture where and how these proteins are distributed physically around the cell—a task typically suited for the optical microscope.

By combining the two, researchers can point to much more complex and potentially unique cell phenotypes, granting a clearer illustration of how certain drugs may interact with the body. The technology is the result of more than a decade of work among optical, mechanical, biomedical and software engineers and could unlock new advancements in immunology, oncology, cell therapies and other fields, the company said.

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In a study in collaboration with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), researchers used the CellView system to examine a cellular pathway that plays a role in immunity and stress responses known as nuclear factor kappa light chain enhancer of activated B cells, or NF-kappaB. The main protein complex was tracked as it moved from the cell’s cytoplasm into the nucleus following activation.

The researchers were able to complete a genomewide screening of the process in about nine hours with the addition of CRISPR tools, a process that may have otherwise taken days. Disruptions of NF-kappaB have been linked to cancer, autoimmune diseases, viral infections and septic shock. The study’s results were published as the cover story of the journal Science.

“For years, researchers have desired a system for cell sorting that would allow them to get a detailed picture of a cell’s inner workings and to isolate those with microscopic phenotypes of interest,” said the paper’s co-corresponding author, Lars Steinmetz, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EMBL and professor of genetics at Stanford University. “We are excited about applying this technology to high-resolution genomic screening aimed at collecting functional information for every part of the genome.”

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