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Portfolio Company Spotlight

NanoCellect’s Gentle, Easy-To-Use Cell Sorter

August 2019  As researchers continue to push the boundaries of science, gentle cell sorting is becoming increasingly important. Accelerated research in regenerative medicine, gene editing, single-cell genomics and other areas require sorting sensitive and fragile cell types. Cellular research technologies and tools are also expanding, and cell sorting has become a common sample preparation step in research workflows. Scientists must have healthy cells to improve the quality and efficiency of their research.

That is part of the rationale behind Illumina Ventures, investment in NanoCellect Biomedical, which has developed the WOLF® Cell Sorter, an instrument that uses a microfluidic cartridge to gently sort cells at very low pressures. The WOLF is a benchtop instrument that can fit into a standard tissue culture hood, giving labs independent cell sorting capabilities in a sterile environment – something most have never had.
“Traditional cell sorters can do a lot of damage to sensitive cells,” says Illumina Ventures partner, Alexis Ji. “That can be a problem for researchers doing in-depth studies where cell viability is critical. The results just won’t be as robust. The rapid advance of single-cell applications is driving the need for better and gentler cell sorting technologies.”

Distributed Sorting

Traditionally, cells have been characterized and sorted by large, expensive and complex systems. These instruments also require lots of additional equipment, including fluidics carts, aerosol abatement systems and specially-designed hoods. As a result, large institutions and biopharma companies centralize this service in core facilities. 

While this gives researchers access to flow cytometry, it’s not always fast access. With so many researchers competing for time at the core lab, projects often have to wait, slowing the pace of discovery. In addition, some core facilities are reluctant to process certain samples due to contamination and other concerns.
The WOLF solves this problem. With its small footprint (16 in. x 16 in.) and a price tag below $100K, labs can have their own sorter(s). They don’t have to wait in line or carry cells across campus or across town. It gives them more control over experimental timing, conditions and ultimately, success.
In addition, because the WOLF uses a sterile microfluidic cartridge, researchers can use sheath and buffers that best ensure high cell viability during sorting. The WOLF starts up in about 12 minutes and takes about two minutes to clean up and shut down. 

Happy Cells = Better Science

The WOLF’s main advantage is the way it gently sorts cells, both in bulk or by dispensing single cells into 96- or 384-well microplates. More healthy cells help scientists work more efficiently and produce better results.
“Cloning applications for single-cell genomics research and cell line development require high cell viability,” says NanoCellect CEO, Chris Neary. “Fragile cell types, like stem cells and engineered CHO cells are often damaged or dead after sorting under the high pressure and shear stress of traditional sorting instruments. Many of our customers have been able to pursue applications they had previously abandoned due to the poor viability of isolated cells.”
Operating at up to 70 PSI, traditional sorters expose cells to very high pressure, drop the pressure dramatically, aerosolize the sample and use an electrical charge to sort. It’s no surprise that many cells get damaged or die – they’re basically getting the bends, shocked, and then shot into a piece of plastic at high speeds. The WOLF sorts cells gently, at under 2 PSI, maintaining their viability for ongoing applications and sequencing. 
“We get around 70% to 90% cell viability,” says Neary. “Traditional sorters often only deliver 10% to 30% viability when sorting fragile cells.”
NanoCellect is working with multiple companies that provide reagents and instruments for cellular research. They recently announced a collaboration with QIAGEN and have been added to the 10x Genomics compatible products list.
“In our collaboration with QIAGEN, customers use the WOLF for sample preparation for single-cell RNA-Seq analysis, dispensing sorted single cells right into their (QIAGEN’s) PCR plate, which already contains the reagents for downstream processing,” says Neary. “It eliminates multiple steps in their workflow, and their customers get higher performance from the kits.”