Chip cytometry as a new technology for deep cell analysis

GO-Bio 4 – Dr. Christian Hennig – Department of Pediatric Pneumology, Allergology and Neonatology, Hannover Medical School | Zellkraftwerk GmbH

Verschiedenen Zellen

Dan Race /

Recipient: Hannover Medical School
Funding: GO-Bio Phase I (01.08.2011 - 30.04.2015, 1.939.973 Euro)

Funding: GO-Bio Phase II (01.05.2015 - 30.04.2018, 1.166.573 Euro)


The cell is at the heart of all biological processes. In the field of biology, an understanding of what goes on inside the cell has thus always been of critical importance. Scientists have a variety of tools at their disposal for the analysis of cells, including flow cytometry, which is used for the detection of individual proteins. Here, cells labelled with fluoresced biomarkers are streamed past photodetectors.

However, this established method also has some disadvantages, not least a limit on the number of measurable markers per cell. Moreover, this figure must be determined before the examination is carried out. Christian Hennig is hoping to tackle these disadvantages through the application of chip cytometry. In his method, the examined cells are first retained on newly developed microfluidic chips, where they are labelled with fluorescent biomarkers. The cells are then examined with digital scanners. Because the cells are not lost in the course of measurement – as is the case in flow cytometry – but remain in place, they are subsequently available for further examinations. In order to be effective, this process requires necessitates the rapid and efficient elimination of the residual fluorescence of the ‘old’ markers. The team led by Hennig has found an innovative solution to this issue – so-called ‘switch antibodies’, which enable the measurement of an extremely large number of biomarkers for each cell. An additional benefit is high flexibility: during analysis, the marker set can be adjusted (‘online’ and as desired) on the basis of the ongoing measurement results. The funding will be used to convert the prototype chip cytometer into a fully automated system. Alongside, the consumable materials such as microfluidic chips and switch antibodies will be brought to market maturity. At the end of the funding phase (2014), it is envisaged to offer the chip cytometry as a service within the company.

The development work on chip cytometry begun in the first GO-Bio phase is to be expanded in the second funding phase in order to enable a more comprehensive, functional investigation of cells. Ultimately, it is planned to characterize primary cell mixtures from solutions and tissues under the influence of active substances. For each individual cell, information on its condition - e.g. during and after stimulation with the drug - is then available.

Progress before and after the funding period

Zellkraftwerk GmbH successfully launched its equipment and technology into the market. In just six years, it has successfully entered the European, US and Asian markets and now counts the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies among its customers. In spring 2019, Zellkraftwerk merged with US biotech Canopy Biosciences. In January 2020, the two partners announced their takeover of Core Diagnostics.