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Cell Isolation Methods: Magnetic Bead Separation

Cell isolation methods and techniques are critical to many research and therapeutic scientific applications. Magnetic beads are a common methodology among cell isolation methods and use a magnetic field to pull targeted cells from a heterogeneous cell population, while reducing contamination from others. Magnetic beads are a fundamental tool in cell biology and biomedical research.

However, there is still an increasing demand for new tools and protocols. Considering all cell separation techniques to determine the ideal technique for an experiment can be integral to the quality, yield, selectivity, process time, and reduction in cost.

The Principles of Magnetic Bead Cell Separation

Magnetic beads can be used for cell separation and isolation for a wide range of cell types and subtypes. Magnetic beads are tiny particles that are coated with antibodies or ligands to bind to target cell types. The antibody/bead complex binds to the cells expressing the surface markers or antigens. When the cell suspension is placed into the magnetic field, magnetically labeled cells are retained, while unlabeled cells can be removed. The labeled cells are pulled from the solution for elution or removal.

Conventional protocols require the isolation of PBMCs by density gradient centrifugation before target cell isolation. Once prepped, the cell sample is labeled using the magnetic beads coated in antibodies. These antibodies have been specifically selected to target a cell type expressing a shared surface marker or multiple surface markers.

Once the targeted cells have been bound to the magnetic beads through the antibodies, the sample is subjected to a magnetic field. The magnetic field attracts the beads from within the sample and pulls them toward the magnet. The targeted cells are pulled out of the solution and adhere to the column. The now separated cells can be freed from the magnetic beads p by removing the magnetic field and eluting the targeted cells in a suitable buffer for downstream use.

Disadvantages of Magnetic Bead Cell Separation

Although magnetic beads are a common  solution for most cell separation needs, the technique does have some disadvantages to consider when deciding on a cell separation method:

  • Magnetic beads can access a wide range of cell types but are limited in their selection specificity by the labeling requirements of the antibodies used for binding to target cells.
  • Magnetic beads rely on the specificity of the antibodies and ligands used. If the chosen antibodies are not solely represented in target cells, the magnetic beads cannot bind to more non-target cells, decreasing population purity.
  • Magnetic fields are powerful forces that can potentially damage more sensitive cell types. Although magnetic beads are thought to be a gentle cell sorting solution, some more fragile cell types cannot withstand the pressure of the magnetic field, decreasing cell viability and risking population integrity.
  • Complex sample types that carry heavy concentrations of debris or dead cells might have difficulty binding and releasing the cells from the magnetic beads. The process of releasing the beads can take specialized equipment and several clean-up and wash steps, adding time and resources to the overall process.

Common Cell Separation Methods

The isolation, study, and utilization of cells is a critical step in numerous cell biology applications. Accessing the specific population of cells necessary for study can provide insight into the functionality of the human body and the cell source of study.

For example, the study of stem cells can lead to a further understanding of their regenerative properties and cell differentiation. The study of cancer cells can aid in the search for cancer therapies. In these instances, highly purified populations of specific cell subsets require clear and reliable experimental conclusions.

Before magnetic beads for cell separation, scientists largely relied on centrifugation-based techniques to isolate specific cell populations for study. A new wave of cell separation innovations including magnetic beads and fluorescence-activated cell sorting has widely replaced these foundational methods.

Akadeum’s innovative microbubble technology is a superior cell sorting method that can be applied to cell biology research and therapies.

Microbubble Cell Separation

At Akadeum, we understand the need for gentle but powerful cell isolation methods. Our innovative microbubble technology quickly sorts and enriches cell populations by removing unwanted cell types. This unique selection approach leaves cells of interest untouched by the cell separation process.

Buoyancy-activated cell separation (BACS™) relies on the physics of buoyancy to sort cells. BACS™ is gentle and relatively inexpensive because it does not require expensive machinery and labor. Our current line of cell isolation products includes T cell and T cell subtype isolation, B cell isolation, and murine cell isolation.

Principles of Microbubble Cell Separation

Microbubbles are small, simple, and inherently buoyant. When added to a mixed cell population, the antibodies coating the microbubbles will bind to target cells and naturally float to the surface of the solution for easy aspiration removal.

Advantages of Microbubble Cell Separation

Cell sorting with microbubbles offers many advantages over sorting with magnets. Microbubbles are gentler and maintain the integrity of the enriched cell sample. Magnetic forces can be intense and cause cell rupturing or modify the cells’ viability or integrity. Microbubbles are more gentle due to their natural buoyancy and compatibility with centrifugation.

Additionally, microbubble separation can be performed continuously, facilitating the rapid processing of large volumes of samples, without being restricted by the size or number of magnets. This potential for high throughput is a significant advantage for commercial medical and biotechnology products requiring a high yield of cells. Microbubbles work well in automation settings and can withstand commercial-level production.

Microbubble Cell Separation With Akadeum

Experience the power of microbubble separation with Akadeum cell separation products! Akadeum provides superior cell separation solutions using the microbubble’s natural buoyancy to gently float unwanted cells out of a solution. This technique leaves cells of interest unblemished for downstream processing. Explore our full range of microbubble cell separation products or contact our team to see how microbubbles can make a difference!

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