Chalmers said the new device represents an improvement because it allows researchers to more carefully measure that interaction.
While more primitive magnetic flow separators are commercially available, laboratories most often separate cells with a flow cytometer, a device that employs a laser beam to examine cells flowing in a stream of water.
Chalmers said the new magnetic cell separator could potentially cost less to manufacture than a flow cytometer, and wouldn't require frequent laser tuning as flow cytometers do.
He sees the new device as a necessary extension of molecular cancer research. "Over the years, we've learned a great deal about cancer on the molecular level, but we're still lacking analytical tools to diagnose and treat cancer," Chalmers said. "We want to take that molecular understanding we've gained and apply it in a practical sense with instrumentation."
He added that many other applications for magnetic cell separation wait to be explored.
For instance, researchers have used magnetic separation techniques to find contaminants in food and water. Chalmers has talked to the U.S. military about turning the new magnetic cell separator into a portable device to test food, water, and air for biological warfare agents.