Automated sensing and splitting of stem cell colonies on microraft arrays

Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) are widely used for disease modeling, tissue engineering, and clinical applications. Although the development of new disease-relevant or customized hiPSC lines is of high importance, current automated hiPSC isolation technologies rely largely on the fluorescent labeling of cells, thus limiting the cell line development from many applications. The objective of this research was to develop a platform for high-throughput hiPSC cytometry and splitting that utilized a label-free cell sensing approach. An image analysis pipeline utilizing background subtraction and standard deviation projections was implemented to detect hiPSC colonies from bright-field microscopy data. The pipeline was incorporated into an automated microscopy system coupling quad microraft cell-isolation arrays, computer-based vision, and algorithms for smart decision making and cell sorting. The pipeline exhibited a hiPSC detection specificity of 98% and a sensitivity of 88%, allowing for the successful tracking of growth for hundreds of microcolonies over 7 days. The automated platform split 170 mother colonies from a microarray within 80 min, and the harvested daughter biopsies were expanded into viable hiPSC colonies suitable for downstream assays, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or continued culture. Transmitted light microscopy offers an alternative, label-free modality for isolating hiPSCs, yet its low contrast and specificity for adherent cells remain a challenge for automation. This novel approach to label-free sensing and microcolony subsampling with the preservation of the mother colony holds the potential for hiPSC colony screening based on a wide range of properties including those measurable only by a cell destructive assay.