Clemson University will soon have a new piece of lab equipment that can sort through billions of cells in a matter of hours and will speed up research for a host of faculty members across campus.

Mark Blenner, left, was principal investigator on a grant that will help Clemson University buy a cell sorter expected to speed up research.

Mark Blenner, left, was principal investigator on a grant that will help Clemson University buy a cell sorter expected to speed up research.

Mark Blenner, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has received word that the Department of Defense will award Clemson $175,100 to purchase a cell sorter.

“This is a piece of equipment that can have an impact on multiple faculty members across Clemson,” Blenner said. “Every university should have at least one. I’m excited to help enable other people’s research, as well as my own.”

The cell sorter will be housed in the Clemson Light Imaging Facility and could be available by August, he said.

It will be open to researchers in all of Clemson’s colleges and to outside users for a fee. Priority will go to faculty members doing Department of Defense-related research.

In the absence of a cell sorter on campus, Clemson researchers have been sending their samples to other institutions, Blenner said.

Douglas E. Hirt, the associate dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering and Science, said the cell sorter will arrive on campus as the university builds its reputation for research.

“With the cell sorter, the world-class facilities we have here on campus will take another leap forward,” Hirt said. “I’d like to congratulate Dr. Blenner and his team. Their successful proposal will benefit not only Dr. Blenner, but researchers across campus. That is to be commended.”

Blenner served as the principal investigator on the grant and submitted it through the Air Force. Terri Bruce, the director of the Clemson Light Imaging Facility, was the co-principal investigator.

“It is clear that Clemson has a great need for a cell sorter,” Bruce said. “As the research interests of both the Clemson faculty and the Department of Defense evolve, there will most certainly be many users for this equipment.”

The cell sorter that Clemson plans to buy is small enough to sit on the average desk and simple enough that a novice scientist should be able to use it.

“It has enough capabilities for most research questions,” Blenner said.

The machine works by passing 10,000 cells per second through a laser that excites fluorescence associated with the cells. The machine measures the amount of fluorescence for each cell and plucks out individual cells according to fluorescence levels determined by the researcher.

Those cells are placed in a separate tube so they can be studied later.

One of the requirements of the grant was that the equipment be used at least partly for Department of Defense-related research.

Blenner plans to use the cell sorter in enzyme research he is doing as part of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program. At least seven other Clemson researchers who could use the cell sorter are seeking funding from the Department of Defense, according to the proposal.

The cell sorter could also be incorporated into a Creative Inquiry class and graduate-level bioengineering class, Blenner said.