The University Record, April 3, 1995

Cell, gene sorting techniques reviewed at national meeting

High-speed cell sorter shows promise for use in genetic engineering, cell transplants

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

U-M chemical engineers are merging two existing technologies to develop a new high-speed cell sorter and filtration system for biological materials.

When perfected, the new system could provide an efficient, cost-effective way to maintain pure strains of genetically-engineered bacteria used to produce insulin and other drugs, according to Mark A. Burns, assistant professor of chemical engineering. It also could filter out cells that can trigger dangerous immune system reactions in patients receiving bone marrow transplants, and provide high-speed, economical cell sorters for research laboratories.

In a poster session at the American Chemical Society meeting being held in Anaheim, Calif., this week, graduate student David D. Putnam will display results of his initial experiments using the system to separate Type B and Type O red blood cells from a mixed solution.

"This experiment is an interim step toward our long-term goal, which is to combine the speed and efficiency of magnetically stabilized fluidized beds with the specificity of cell-affinity chromatography," according to Putnam.

Scientists use cell affinity chromatography (CAC) to "identify and grab one type of cell from a large, mixed population of cells, which often have very similar characteristics," Burns explains. CAC works by binding to cells with specific chemical receptor molecules on their surface membranes.

CAC is accurate, but very slow and labor-intensive, acc