Centrifugation, an important laboratory process, involves the separation of substance of diverse densities using centrifugal force. Clinical centrifuges have come a long way since their inception and it is worth taking a look at the milestones in the evolution and development of this reliable piece of lab equipment.
A Brief History of Centrifuges
Benchtop centrifuges with speeds of about 3000 rpm have been in use since the mid-1800s, but mostly for non-clinical purposes. In the 1920s, Svedberg developed and used a centrifuge to determine the molecular weight and analyze the structure of complex proteins, such as hemoglobin. He received a Nobel Prize in 1926 for his path-breaking invention of the ultracentrifuge and his research in colloid chemistry. In 1949, SPINCO came out with the first preparative ultracentrifuge to reach a maximum speed of 40,000 rpm.
Significant developments in the use of the centrifuge in the clinical lab occurred during the 1950s:
- 1950s – Beckman Instruments, now known as Beckman Coulter, took over SPINCO in 1954 and continued making ultracentrifuges.
- 1960s – Netheler & Hinz Medizintechnik, known today as Eppendorf, developed the first microcentrifuge in 1962 for laboratory use.
- 1970s – HEINKEL developed the first inverting filter centrifuge HF in 1971 and in 1976 the world’s first microprocessor controlled centrifuge was launched at ACHEMA by Hettich.
- 1980s – Beckman launched the first floor ultracentrifuges.
- 1990s – Beckman launched the Avanti high performance centrifuge.
- 2000 – Eppendorf introduced the innovative cooled 5415D centrifuge, followed by MiniSpin and the MiniSpin Plus, both personal centrifuges that set a new market trend.
Integrated with advanced technologies, modern clinical centrifuges come in a variety of models. There are general-purpose benchtops, microcentrifuges, small clinical centrifuges, cell washers, and high-speed benchtops. Floor-models, suitable for high-capacity sample processing, are also available. These devices come with processes for cooling, programming, automatic imbalance detection, noise reduction and changeable rotor systems. With their speed and reliability, centrifuges have become an invaluable technology for the automation of lab practices.
A major advantage of tabletop models is that they save floor space. Industry leader Beckman Coulter’s TJ-6 Benchtop centrifuge is ideal for general-purpose applications such as blood and urine separations, radioimmunoassay, and other sedimentation runs. The TH-4 rotor can reach speeds up to 5700 rpm – with capacity up to two liters. In addition to speed control knob, HOLD option for longer runs, braking system, and direct reading tachometer, it comes with a safety interlock for additional protection.
There are also innovative point-of-care versions of this lab device today. The MyFUGE personal centrifuge is an economical choice that virtually fits in the palm of your hand. Ideal for quick spin downs of microtubes and PCR tubes, the instrument features near silent operation and an eight-position microtube rotor.
Modern clinical centrifuges also have several built-in safeguards against device failure. If a load-balancing failure occurs, the device will stop automatically. Ongoing research is focused on minimizing the time that the device will take to reach the designated speed and also reducing the time needed to stop the centrifugation process.