Stem cells are typified by their ability to differentiate into a wide range of specific cell types, including nerve cells, brain cells, and other cells that do not typically regenerate in the human body. This pluripotency holds great promise for regenerative medecine, possibly enabling the repair of damaged or mis-developed tissues in adults and children. A great promise for stem cells is the production of very large quantities replacement heart muscle, skin cells, nerve cells, or other types of cells that are needed to repair these tissues.
Controlling into what type of cells stem cells differentiate, and separating those that have differentiated, from those that have not differentiated, are a key elements in using stem cells as therapeutic elements. Control is presently being explored using a wide range of different chemical and physical environments, and is proving a highly complex and challenging area of research. Distinguishing and purifying the results of these control experiments, both in research and in clinical application, will clearly be a significant and important part of the eventual therapeutic use of stem cells.
A multiplexed, microfluidic, all-electronic stem cell sorter, which we propose to develop under this seed grant, would enable the rapid and highly specific separation of differentiated and non-differentiated stem cells into separate groups, producing very highly purified samples of each particular type. These would then be available for further experimentation, or for direct therapeutic use. The entire microfluidic sorter is based on technology that would allow this process to be performed in a very inexpensive and disposable instrument, making the sorter readily and cheaply available to both the researcher and the biomedical industry. It is based on a very novel and possibly disruptive technology, quite distinct from the methods presently used for these applications. This all-electronic approach would provide a route to much simpler and faster sorters, and more rapid results, than present methodologies.
The research proposed here will focus on the development of an all-electronic, microfluidic cell sorting technology, which will involve the combination of microfluidics, all-electronic biosensing, biomolecular labeling, and cell culture. The end product will be a small, hand-held unit that includes disposable components, that enables a rapid, highly specific way to sort and quantify cells in a fluid sample. Technology that will enable uniquely labeling stem cells based on surface protein expression, sorting labeled cells in a highly specific and rapid fashion, and quantifying the numbers of cells sorted into each channel, will be developed and used in creating this instrument.
The benefits to California are multi-dimensional. First, the technology produced through this research will have a direct impact on stem cell research and possible clinical use, an area to which California has clearly made a strong commitment, so that efforts in these areas pursued within California would benefit directly.
Second, the technology produced here will likely form the basis of a commercial enterprise to produce, market, and further develop this technology. This enterprise will most likely be based in California, and if successful would provide employment, new technology, and tax revenue to the state.
Third, the participation of four researchers from quite diverse field, bringing highly distinct expertise in engineering biophysics (PI Cleland), biochemistry (co-PI Reich), molecular biology (collaborator Laird) and stem cell culture (collaborator Wesselschmidt), will provide a unique combination of backgrounds and technologies that will likely generate new ideas and more applications for this type of instrumentation.
Fourth, the research efforts and education of the postdoctoral and graduate students will generate two new professionals in this cross-disciplinary area, two students that will doubtless continue to work on closely related areas of work and further develop the concepts and technology that will enable future progress.