Therapies involving stem cells hold immense promise for treating a variety of medical conditions, particularly spinal cord injuries. 

A future where damaged spinal cords can be regenerated through the medical application of stem cells, restoring mobility and function to those affected, isn’t as far away as it once seemed. 

Especially since scientists at MIT and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology have taken a significant step towards this future by developing a tiny device that could enhance the safety and effectiveness of stem cell treatments.


Understanding Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy involves reprogramming the stem cells taken from a patient’s skin or blood cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). 

These iPSCs are then coaxed into becoming progenitor cells, specialised to differentiate into spinal cord cells. 

Once these progenitor cells are transplanted back into the patient, they can regenerate part of the injured spinal cord, offering hope for recovery. 

However, undifferentiated iPSCs pose a risk of forming tumours, limiting the therapy’s safety and efficacy.


Introducing the Microfluidic Cell Sorter

To address this challenge, researchers have developed what’s known as a microfluidic cell sorter.

Effectively a kind of sieve, this device is capable of removing undifferentiated cells from a batch without harming fully-formed progenitor cells. 

It can sort over 3 million cells per minute and can be scaled up by chaining multiple devices together, potentially sorting more than 500 million cells per minute. 

Moreover, the plastic chip housing the sorter can be mass-produced at low cost, making widespread implementation feasible.


How It Works

The sorter operates based on the size difference between residual, undifferentiated pluripotent stem cells and progenitor cells. 

Pluripotent stem cells tend to be larger due to the presence of numerous active genes in their nuclei. 

As cells pass through microfluidic channels at high speeds, centrifugal forces focus them at specific points, enabling their separation based on size. 

By running the sorter twice at different speeds, researchers effectively remove larger cells that are associated with a higher tumour risk.


Promising Results and Future Directions

While the sorter doesn’t eliminate 100% of undifferentiated cells, it significantly reduces the risk, enhancing the safety of cell therapy treatments. 

Further studies are underway to validate these findings in larger-scale experiments and animal models. If successful, purified cells could offer improved efficacy and safety in vivo, paving the way for broader applications of this technique.

The development of this microfluidic cell sorter represents a significant advancement in the field of stem cell therapy. 

By enhancing safety and effectiveness, it brings us closer to realising the full potential of regenerative medicine for conditions like spinal cord injuries. 

With ongoing research and technological innovations, the future holds promising possibilities for improving healthcare outcomes through cell-based therapies.


To find out more about how you could give your baby access to the future of medicine by banking their stem cell rich umbilical cord and placenta, download your FREE Parents Guide to Cord Blood Banking below.



Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Scientists develop a low-cost device to make cell therapy safer.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2024. <>.

Tan Dai Nguyen, et al., Label-Free and High-Throughput Removal of Residual Undifferentiated Cells From iPSC-Derived Spinal Cord Progenitor Cells, Stem Cells Translational Medicine, 2024.

Zewe, A. (2024, February 7). Scientists develop a low-cost device to make cell therapy safer. MIT News. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from 



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