Optical Biosensors & Biophotonics

Our research

Optical selection of stem cells: application to human embryonic germ cells

The programme of research, focused at the Engineering / Stem Cell Biology interface aims to advance human embryonic germ cell (EGC) research by microfluidic optical waveguide approaches for cell sorting.


The EGC, a type of human pluripotent stem cell, is derived from the primordial germ cell (PGC) and is capable of broad differentiation. In spite of encouraging progress, major challenges still remain in researching EGCs. In particular, little is known of what regulates the conversion of PGC to EGC or, once formed, why EGCs struggle to self-renew in prolonged culture; both issues hinder their application to tissue engineering. Understanding derivation is inhibited by the tiny numbers of PGCs in the starting population that are mixed in with somatic cell types. These 'contaminating' somatic cells are carried over into EGC culture, making it difficult to ascribe precise reasons for the loss of self-renewal. A suitable method of delicate, non-invasive purification is needed as FACs and other conventional approaches are unsuitable because of the exceedingly limited cell number. We are developing very ‘gentle’ optical sorting methods to purify PGCs and EGCs. Novel optical and microfluidic structures are being designed and fabricated that are compatible with the sorting of living PGCs and EGCs. The result of this purification strategy will be to advance EGC research.

Collaboration with
Neil Hanley (School of Medicine, University of Manchester)
Tracy Melvin (Optoelectronics Research Centre)
James Wilkinson (Optoelectronics Research Centre)

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Copyright University of Southampton 2006