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What Makes a Good Cell Separation System?

Cell separation systems serve as a critical tool in modern biotechnology, enabling researchers and medical professionals to isolate specific target cells from complex mixtures. Cell separation techniques have become fundamental to a variety of biomedical applications, including clinical cell therapy, drug discovery, and basic research.

As with all technologies, each type of cell separation system has its benefits and challenges. Let’s explore these separation systems and Akadeum Life Sciences’ innovative solution to address these challenges: the Alerion™ Microbubble Cell Separation System.

What Is a Cell Separation System?

Cell separation, also known as cell sorting or cell isolation, is a process used to isolate one or more specific cell types from a heterogeneous mixture of cells. This process is crucial in both clinical and research settings, enabling the study of specific cell populations and the development of targeted therapies and diagnostic assays.

Cell separation systems are typically self-contained kits, protocols, or equipment that can be based on a specific separation principle, such as physical properties (size, density, electric charge) or biological characteristics (surface markers, light scattering properties). In addition, there are both manual and automated cell separation systems.

There are a few methods that a cell separation system can be classified into, such as centrifugation, filtration, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), and magnetic-activated cell sorting (MACS). Each method has its own set of advantages and limitations. For example:

  • Centrifugation is widely used for its simplicity and efficiency but may not be the most gentle on cells.
  • Filtration offers a quick way to separate cells based on size but lacks specificity.
  • FACS and MACS provide high specificity and purity, but they can be time-consuming, require specialized equipment, and have downstream application effects.

However, newer techniques—such as buoyancy-based microbubble separation—offer an alternative with some unique advantages. Understanding these various methods is key to selecting the appropriate cell separation system for specific applications.

Manual vs. Automated Cell Separation

Besides the underlying method, all cell separation systems can be generally divided into manual or automated systems. Manual methods, such as density gradient centrifugation or manual magnetic cell sorting, are labor-intensive and time-consuming. They often require skilled personnel and can result in variability due to human error.

Automated systems, like the semi-automated Akadeum Alerion™ Microbubble Cell Separation System, offer increased consistency, reproducibility, and efficiency. They reduce hands-on time, minimize the potential for contamination, and ensure uniformity in the separation process, which is crucial for high-throughput and precision-dependent applications.

The shift towards automation in cell separation is enhancing the reliability and scalability of biomedical research and clinical applications.

Types of Cell Separation Systems

Cell separation systems vary significantly in their methodologies and applications. Here are some of the most common types:

Centrifugation-Based Separation

  • Principle: Utilizes centrifugal force to separate cells based on density differences.
  • Pros: Is cost-effective, suitable for processing large volumes, and a widely available technology.
  • Cons: Can cause significant cell stress and damage, limited in separating cells with similar densities.
  • Use case: Often used for separating components from whole blood or expanded cells from cell culture.


  • Principle: Employs physical barriers to separate cells according to size.
  • Pros: Is simple, fast, and does not require complex equipment or reagents.
  • Cons: Cannot differentiate cells beyond size and has the potential for clogging and cell loss.
  • Use case: Is effective for isolating larger cells like tumor cells or leukocytes and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from whole blood.

Flow Cytometry-Based Sorting

  • Principle: Distinguishes cells based on their light scattering and fluorescence characteristics, often via fluorescent probes conjugated with antibodies specific to the desired cell type.
  • Pros: Is extremely precise, allows for multi-parameter sorting, and is capable of sorting individual target cells.
  • Cons: These include its high cost, complex operation, long sort times, and required maintenance; also potential cell damage due to high-pressure systems.
  • Use case: Used in research for sorting cells based on specific markers, like T cells in immunology studies.

Magnetic-Activated Cell Sorting (MACS)

  • Principle: Relies on magnetic particles functionalized to antibodies to attach to specific target cell surface markers.
  • Pros: Provides high specificity, is scalable, and suitable for both positive and negative selection.
  • Cons: Magnetic labeling may alter cell properties and high-energy magnetic fields can be harmful to cells. They also require specific equipment, such as expensive magnets and other reagents. This process has limited scalability and includes long processing times.
  • Use case: Commonly used for isolating immune cells or stem cells.

Microbubble Technology (e.g., Akadeum’s Alerion™ System)

  • Principle: Uses buoyant, biotinylated microbubbles to bind and isolate desired cells.
  • Pros: Preserves cell viability and function, high purity and yield, and is adaptable to various cell types.
  • Cons: As a newer technology, it may require an initial set up and integration into existing workflows.
  • Use case: Is ideal for leukopaks, PBMCs, and delicate cells like stem cells and primary cells in cancer research.

Users of Cell Separation Systems

Cell separation systems are utilized throughout many different areas of biotech and biology, including:

  • Biomedical research: Researchers employ cell separation to study cellular functions, disease mechanisms, and drug responses.
  • Clinical applications: In clinical settings, cell separation is used for diagnostics, patient monitoring, personalized medicine, and therapeutic applications, such as cell therapy.
  • Pharmaceutical industry: Utilized in the development of new drugs, vaccines, and biologics.
  • Academic institutions: Fundamental to academic research in cell biology, immunology, and related fields.

Each user has specific needs depending on their application, which informs their choice of cell separation system. When selecting a cell separation system, users typically prioritize factors such as efficiency, precision, scalability, and ease of use.

There is a growing preference for automated systems due to their ability to ensure consistency, reduce manual labor, and increase throughput. Automated and semi-automated systems like Akadeum’s Alerion™ offer the added benefits of high purity and yield, gentle cell handling, and compliance with regulatory standards, making them highly attractive to researchers and professionals in various fields.

Finally, let’s look at Akadeum’s Alerion™ system and its unique benefits in these diverse applications.

Akadeum’s Alerion™ System: An Introduction

Akadeum Life Sciences’ Alerion™ Microbubble Cell Separation System is a significant advancement in cell separation technology. It is a semi-automated system that leverages the unique properties of buoyant microbubbles for cell isolation.

Unlike traditional methods, Alerion™ is designed to be gentle on cells, maintaining their viability and functionality. This is crucial for subsequent biotechnological applications. Its compatibility with various input materials and applications makes it versatile for different research and clinical needs.

Benefits of the Alerion™ System

The Alerion™ system stands out for its advantages:

  • Scalable: Capable of processing less than 1 X 109 and greater than 80 X 109 cells each run to meet the needs in cell therapy dosing requirements.
  • Fast: From washed apheresis material to isolated cells in under an hour with unmatched productivity.
  • Efficient: Consistently delivers greater than 85% recovery with greater than 95% purity to achieve unparalleled yields and value.

The Alerion™ system is a highly scalable, fast, and efficient solution meeting the diverse needs of biotechnology researchers and professionals. Its unique features, particularly the use of buoyant microbubbles, set it apart from traditional cell separation methods, offering new possibilities in cell isolation and analysis. In addition, Akadeum’s Alerion™ system is designed in compliance with ISO 13485 and 21 CFR 11, the consumables meet rigorous GMP quality and regulatory standards for use in both research and in processing and manufacturing for cell and gene therapies.

Alerion™ in Action

Among all the types of cell separation systems available, Akadeum’s Alerion™ Microbubble Cell Separation System offers a revolutionary approach, enabling the isolation of high-purity cell populations and the study of rare cell types. Its combination of efficiency, gentleness, and versatility makes it a standout choice for researchers and professionals across various biotechnological fields.

For those seeking a state-of-the-art solution to cell separation challenges, the Alerion™ system represents a significant leap forward.

Discover more about how the Alerion™ system can revolutionize your cell separation processes by contacting our team or by visiting the Alerion™ Microbubble Cell Separation System product page.

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