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How an Easy-To-Use Cell Sorter Works

Problem: Scientists must typically rely on high-end cell sorters in core facilities to run their samples. These cell sorters—equipped with five or more lasers and double digit detection channels—were originally utilized to answer pressing questions arising in the immunology field. However, they are overly complex for the new breed of user who sorts cells today: cell biologists and biochemists who employ fluorescent proteins and require at most four colors and one-to-two population sorting. The challenge is that as demand increases, the number of staff available to operate these complex instruments remains the same. As a result, wait times at core facilities have ballooned, literally putting research on hold until capacity is available. For the more than half of today’s cell sorting users who require four colors or
fewer sorts, the elaborate equipment is becoming a bottleneck. 

by Bio-Rad Laboratories
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Solution: Instead of waiting days or sometimes weeks to use a core facility, biologists who only need to perform basic sorts now have an alternative. A number of compact, affordable and easier-to-use cell sorters has recently entered the market. Flow core directors are also looking at these “personal sorters” to add capacity to their facilities, alleviate wait times, and free up their higher-end cell sorters for more complex sorts. One example is Ryan Duggan, technical director at the University of Chicago’s flow cytometry core facility. Researchers were waiting up to 16 days to sort cells in his core lab. Becoming aware that personal sorters might be the solution to this bottleneck, he tested three of them side-by-side (see chart). He found that Bio-Rad’s new S3 cell sorter was comparable to the others in terms of performance, but stood out for its ease-of-use.

The S3 system was designed so even novice users can quickly set it up. And calibration, typically an issue for high-end instruments, requires no user involvement. Just by clicking the power button, the system performs a hands-off startup sequence that automatically aligns the lasers, optimizes the droplet/side stream and turns the stream on. With one more click, the instrument completes a one-bead alignment QC and drop delay assessment. The researcher can then begin sorting.

This system also takes care of the little details that more complex cell sorters ignore. Instead of forcing someone to watch the collection tubes fill up, stop the sort, and insert a new empty tube, the S3 automatically knows when to move to the next empty tube. Also, the system can detect bubbles and clogs and stop the sorting process, thus preventing bad sorts.

The S3 is equipped with one to two lasers (488 nm and either 561 or 640 nm) and up to four fluorescent detectors. Such a system is ideal for high-speed enrichment of cell populations expressing fluorescent proteins, high-purity isolation of rare cells labeled with fluorescent markers, and the isolation of single cells for single-cell biology. The fluidics, pressure, and temperature controls are neatly stowed away inside the instrument, permitting a small footprint. All of these features come at cost that is a fraction of the traditional, more complex cell sorter, putting cell sorting within reach of every researcher, whether in their lab or at a core facility.

For more information, please contact Bio-Rad at 510-741-4043 or, or visit