Case studies

Driving a new wave of cell sorting innovation at NanoCellect with Moku:Lab

Learn how researchers are using the Moku Arbitrary Waveform Generator to enable highly efficient digital synthesis with more accurate sweeps


NanoCellect Biomedical specializes in the development of innovative cell analysis and sorting solutions. Leveraging its proprietary microfluidic technology, NanoCellect is revolutionizing the field of cell biology by providing researchers and clinicians with user-friendly, high-throughput options for cell analysis, sorting, and isolation. By empowering researchers with reliable and flexible tools, NanoCellect is driving advancements in areas such as cancer research, immunology, drug discovery, and personalized medicine, ultimately accelerating breakthroughs and improving human health.

NanoCellect delivers innovative solutions adapted for flow cytometry, a technique used to analyze and quantify individual cells or particles as they pass through a laser beam, measuring various characteristics. Beyond analysis, flow cytometry can also be used for cell sorting, which involves physically separating cells based on their specific characteristics. To develop the VERLO Image Guided Sorter, the researchers turned to Moku:Lab, which delivered the Arbitrary Waveform Generator instrument that they needed to conduct highly efficient digital synthesis with more accurate sweeps.

Moku:Lab is a reconfigurable hardware platform that combines the digital signal processing power of an FPGA with versatile, low-noise analog inputs and outputs. The software-defined functionality enables Moku:Lab to provide 14+ test instruments. With Multi-instrument Mode, users can combine pairs of instruments to run simultaneously with lossless interconnection.

The challenge

During cell sorting in flow cytometry, cells are analyzed and identified based on fluorescence markers or other distinguishing features. Once the cells are identified, they are selectively deflected into different collection tubes or wells using a piezo actuator. This separation process allows researchers to isolate and collect specific cell populations of interest, which can be further studied or used in various downstream applications.

Cell sorting is a powerful tool in many research areas, including immunology, stem cell research, cancer biology, and genomics. It enables the isolation of rare cell populations or specific cell subsets, facilitating in-depth analysis and investigations into cell functions and behaviors. To innovate and deliver their product to market quickly in this fast-paced development environment, the team needed a flexible test solution that could rapidly verify experimental results. The scientists needed to generate a chirp signal with amplitude corrections ranging from 80 MHz to 290 MHz. The chirp signal drives an acousto-optic deflector, which the team uses to steer laser beams (Figure 1). They initially rented a Keysight 81160A, but wanted a more flexible and cost-effective long-term solution.

NanoCellect Figure 1, new

Figure 1: (a) Overall system architecture. The scanning laser beam and the cell travel produce an equivalence of a 2D raster scanning system. The bright field and fluorescent signals of the cell are detected with PMTs, and the temporal signals are reconstructed to form cell images via real-time processing by using an FPGA. The features of each cell image are extracted by a PC or GPU. According to the sorting criteria (gating) based on user-selected image features, the on-chip piezoelectric (PT) actuator is triggered to sort out cells that have the target features. (b) Design of the imaging system. AOD, acousto-optic deflector; DM, dichroic mirror; OL, 10x/0.28 objective lens; PMTs, photomultiplier tubes; and SM, the spatial mask for cell speed detection with its design shown on the left. (c) Microfluidic chip design. Suspended cells are focused to the center of the microfluidic channel by a sheath flow. The on-chip piezoelectric actuator bends upward or downward mechanically, deflecting the flow and the target cell within the flow into the designated channel. Scale bar: 1 mm.

The solution

Since deploying Moku:Lab for prototyping and R&D, the team at NanoCellect has seen significant development progress. The flexibility of software-defined instrumentation combined with the user-friendly interface has accelerated the team’s goal to develop a next-generation cell sorting device.

The team relies on the Arbitrary Waveform Generator instrument with two simultaneous outputs generating chirp signals with a width of 200 kHz (Figure 2). The signals are then used to drive an acousto-optical deflector (AOD).

Figure 2: Moku:Lab Oscilloscope trigger settings and start of Channel 1 burst.

The traditional method of driving an AOD is to use a voltage-tuned oscillator, but this method can be inaccurate and inflexible. Since Moku:Lab enables highly efficient digital synthesis, the team can now generate more accurate sweeps and modulate the amplitude of the output signal accordingly. This setup also gives the team the flexibility to drive other types of AODs (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Triggered two-channel burst signals with a 200 kHz width, as measured by Moku:Lab cursors.

“I look forward to finding other uses for such a flexible instrument and expect to likely purchase more,” said Ivan Gagné, an embedded systems engineer at NanoCellect.

With Moku:Lab, the team at NanoCellect can update output signals in real time to counteract any inefficiencies resulting from the laser output power in the system. They used the iPad interface during startup to check the input and output characteristics but ultimately switched to the LabVIEW API, which allowed them to quickly develop a custom UI to make adjusting the parameters for the waveforms simple (Figure 4). Beyond accelerating development timelines with Moku:Lab, they praised the friendly and efficient customer service they received from Liquid Instruments.

Figure 4: The NanoCellect team used the LabVIEW API to quickly develop a custom UI that made adjusting the parameters for the waveforms simple.

The result

Ultimately, Moku:Lab has allowed the team at NanoCellect to optimize development by enabling demanding sweep speeds and sample rates while eliminating the need to rent costly equipment or design a custom solution. 

“This helped us verify ideas, mitigate issues, and prove untested concepts quickly to get our product to market,” said Wes Ice, a senior electrical engineer at NanoCellect. “The equivalent PXI-based instrument from NI would be a bit larger and an order of magnitude more expensive, so I would recommend Moku:Lab to other engineers who have similar signal generation and acquisition requirements.”

Gagné echoed Ice’s sentiments regarding cost and performance.

“Moku:Lab came in at a very good price point for the output sample rate,” he said. “And with an easy-to-use API, we’ve been able to iterate quickly with our waveform design.”


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