The researchers use a prototype of the device to look for human stem cells in umbilical cord blood, as well as for transplant and cancer research.
Cancer researchers are currently trying to find out whether cancer cells in the blood can be used as a reliable indicator of whether a patient's cancer has metastasized, Chalmers explained. Some researchers suspect that both metastatic and non-metastatic breast cancer may shed cells in the blood.
This device may aid researchers' efforts by making cancer cells easier to tag and find, Chalmers said. He added that the device may one day be able to separate a large quantity of cells very quickly -- testing the blood of many different patients one after the other, for instance.
The device works by measuring how cells move when suspended in a magnetic field. The researchers target specific cells by attaching magnetic particles to antibodies that will seek out those cells and bind with them. Those cells are then delivered to a region of very high magnetic field. Researchers can identify the type of cell by measuring how fast the cell moves in this high magnetic energy zone.
When they needed to know how different cells flowed in magnetic fields, the researchers were able to take advantage of software already under development at Ohio State for fluid mechanics research.