NYUAD Researchers Develop New Technology to Isolate and Pattern Cells

The image shows a dynamic pattern of different cell types isolated and deposited using the developed Micro-electro-fluidic Probe (MeFP). Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi faculty Mohammad Qasaimeh.

Researchers have developed a novel tool that creates new opportunities for patterning cells on flat substrates.

Press Release

Fast facts:

  • Cell patterning is an important part of tissue engineering processes - it is similar to a jigsaw puzzle where different cell types first have to be sorted, purified, and then assembled in controlled patterns.
  • The field of tissue engineering aims for generating tissues in lab setting for use to replace or repair portions of a patients’ damaged tissues – or for medical testing applications.
  • The newly developed tool has the ability to separate and pattern mammalian cells (mammalian cell culture is the process of growing human or animal cells in vitro in a flask or dish) in an open microfluidic system.
  • The concept of open microfluidics is a new and evolving science for manipulating and controlling fluids outside conventional closed miniaturized conduits.
  • The research was published in the journal Lab on a Chip.

A team of researchers from NYU Abu Dhabi have developed a dielectrophoresis (DEP) enabled Micro-electro-Fluidic Probe (MeFP) that has the ability to sequentially separate and pattern mammalian cells in an open microfluidic system. Mammalian cells are tiny (approximately one tenth of a single hair strand diameter) and therefore becomes very challenging to selectively enrich and pattern cells at the single cell resolution.

The developed tool is capable of selectively enriching cells of interest in a magnetic-like arrest that leads to grabbing target cells from the fluid stream, while leaving non-target ones within the flow untouched. Consequently, arrested cells get released and patterned on substrate in a 2D-printing-like process.

The study demonstrated the MeFP with up to 100 percent isolation efficiency, 90 percent separation purity, and a pattern deposition rate of a few seconds. Using this method to sort, purify, and assemble cells into controlled patterns is the first step in the tissue engineering process. 

The device also has a potential application in the sequential capture and characterization of circulating tumor cells (malignant cells found in cancer patients’ blood). Since the MeFP can directly deposit captured cells on any bottom flat substrate, these cells can be subsequently tested with multiple chemotherapeutic drugs using only the microfluidic feature of the same device.

In the paper, "Micro-Electro-Fluidic Probe for Sequential Cell Separation and Patterning," published in the journal Lab on a Chip, the researchers present the process of creating a tool that can separate and pattern cells using DEP forces within an open “channel-less” microfluidic system, allowing cellular patterns with complex tissue-like structure to grow. The MeFP is a microfluidic probe with injection and aspiration apertures, integrated with an array of micro-hump electrodes on its tip. By adjusting the flow configuration of the MeFP, the researchers were able to pattern a cell culture containing two different types of cells for homotypic and heterotypic cell interaction studies.

With the MeFP, biological cells of different types can be sequentially sorted and simultaneously patterned, on any flat substrate, to form the required cell patterns and potentially tissue constructs. Examples of different cell types include cancer cells, stem cells, immune and red blood cells, to name a few. 

“The MeFP is a multifunctional tool for manipulating cells in open channel-less space. This demonstration of its simple, dynamic and customizable nature will inspire new cell patterning, tissue engineering, and life science applications.” 

Lead researcher and NYUAD Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering Mohammad Qasaimeh

“The developed tool can be used to scan across any flat substrate, and can separate specific cells based on their electronic signatures,'' commented  first author and Global PhD Fellow in Mechanical Engineering at NYUAD Ayoola T. Brimmo.

“This is the first study that combines DEP forces within an open microfluidic probe, which possess the features of hydrodynamic confinements and scanning capabilities,” said second author and senior research scientist in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at NYUAD Anoop Menachery. 


About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and science campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly-selective liberal arts, engineering and science curriculum with a world center for advanced research and scholarship enabling its students to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from 115 nations and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.