The VACS Technology and Founding of Cellular Highways

We have created Cellular Highways to take cell sorting into new medical and research applications, where previous cell sorting technology has failed. Cellular Highways is a new spin-out from TTP plc, based in Melbourn Science Park, just south of Cambridge, UK. Our growing team of scientists and engineers is currently working on our first product, Highway1, pilot-scale manufacturing of our MEMS sorter chip and scaling of the technology to parallel sorting systems. Please get in touch if you are interested in our technology or products, or you would like to work for Cellular Highways.

Inventing a high-throughput cell sorting instrument has been a long-standing goal of many scientists: such an instrument would have the potential to transform a wide range of life science applications. But the microfluidic cell sorting technologies developed during the past decade have hardly challenged, let alone displaced, jet-in-air electrostatic droplet sorting, the technology behind FACS, which was developed by Mack Fulwyler, the Herzenbergs and others, from around 1965. We call this “CICS” – continuous inkjet cell sorting, which reflects the origin of the technology.

The Life Science Group at TTP plc has worked on cell sorting problems for several years, applying a range of droplet-handling microdevices to life science instrumentation. In 2015, we realised the huge potential of cell therapy and that a high-throughput and fully-enclosed cell sorting instrument could enable many cell therapy approaches that are not feasible with existing technology.

Our push towards an instrument that would enable such applications started in earnest in 2016. Drawing on our experience with jet-in-air and alternative microfluidic applications, we decided to simplify the fluidics as much as possible, to ensure that the envisaged instrument could be fully automated and the fluidics supplied in a sterile cartridge.

We also decided to avoid specialist materials and difficult-to-manufacture actuators in order to create a truly low-cost chip. Finally, to achieve high-throughput sorting, we wanted to invent a technology that could be multiplexed to deliver far higher sort rates than previously thought possible, for new applications like cell therapy.

In 2017, we came up with the idea of VACS: vortex actuated cell sorting. Most of the year was spent in the lab, making and testing successive generations of the microfluidic chip that implements this idea, and improving our instrumentation. By the end of 2017, we had found a system that worked.

In 2018 we got our first results on human blood samples, with collaborators at GSK (manuscript now under review as of early 2019). We also got our first feasibility results with a prominent cell therapy partner, showing at, an experimental scale, that the VACS technology is capable of sorting cells in a CART manufacturing process, without loss of cell viability or functionality.

In April 2019, Cellular Highways became a new company, spun out from TTP, with a seed fund to bring VACS into its first product: Highway1, and lead its commercialisation.

In February 2022, Cellular Highways completed a set of beta prototypes of its first product Highway1.

We are interested in hearing from anyone with an interest in our journey. Please use our Contact form to get in touch.

Our parent company, TTP plc

Our parent company, TTP plc

TTP is an independent technology company where scientists and engineers collaborate to invent, design and develop new products and technologies. Working across a wide spectrum of industries including health, telecoms, industrials and consumer, TTP creates breakthrough solutions that bring strong commercial value to clients and the benefits of technology to all.

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