ERC grant for research on separating cells using ultrasound
Per Augustsson, Associate Professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering at LTH, Lund University, has been awarded an ERC Proof of Concept Grant for his work on how liquids and cells behave in a sound field.
– Published 7 September 2022
A total of 55 researchers from around Europe will each receive EUR 150,000 from the European Research Council to investigate the commercial potential of their research. They have all previously received ERC Starting Grants. The funding is part of the EU's research and innovation program Horizon Europe, and has been selected from among 120 evaluated proposals.
“This means that I can use the results from my ongoing ERC Starting Grant and apply them for the benefit of society”, says Per Augustsson.
His research involves how sound can be used to sort and separate blood cells from, for example, blood samples.
“Blood consists mainly of red blood cells, but also contains white blood cells that are part of the immune system. In the blood of people affected by cancer, there may also be circulating tumour cells, which are believed to play a role in how cancer spreads between different organs in the body. In order to understand the role of different types of blood cells in healthy and sick individuals, it is of interest to medical researchers to be able to separate different types of cells from the blood so they can be studied in detail. We believe that ultrasound-based separation can give them a powerful tool to achieve this”, says Per Augustsson.
The funding will be used to investigate the possibility of applying acoustic separation when extracting specific cell subgroups directly from blood.
“One example is when donating platelets when you donate blood. We want to find out if acoustic separation can sometimes be a better option than centrifugation, which is the most common method today. Then we need to look at whether you can achieve sufficiently accurate separation, whether the cells can possibly be damaged by acoustic separation, and what it would take to do it on a larger scale”, says Per Augustsson.
What is the goal of the project?
- The goal of the project is to pave the way for this technology to be commercialized and thus benefit society in the long run, which requires answering these questions first.
What are the possible practical applications?
- Perhaps we will see acoustic separators replace centrifuges in certain contexts, such as when donating blood.
About the technology
Cells are led into a glass chip with a millimeter-wide channel that is a few centimeters long. The entire chip vibrates millions of times per second, and a sound field occurs between the walls inside the channel. The cells are affected by the sound and a force is created that pushes the cells sideways as they float through the channel. Cells of different types are affected to varying degrees by the sound, as they have slightly different characteristics and size. The effect of this is that when the cells reach the end of the channel, they have separated from one another. By dividing the flow at the end of the channel, we can collect different cell types in separate outlets.