A method for separation of a mixture of biological entities into at least three distinct, subpopulations. Different antibodies are provided, with each antibody bound to a solid support in a unique manner such that by a manipulation of the physical or chemical environment, the bonds between the antibodies and the solid supports can be selectively broken. The mixed population of cells is incubated with the antibodies. The cells are magnetically separated from a test medium and collected in a monolayer upon a collection surface. Then by manipulation of the physicochemical environment, specific linkages can be broken and desired cell subpopulations released from the collection surface. This method has medically significant diagnostic and therapeutic applications, as entire cell types can be separated from non-malignant medically vital cell types. Cancer can be diagnosed, staged, and monitored. Genetic analysis from maternal blood, CVS, or amniocentesis samples is possible. Diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis or hepatitis can be monitored. This invention also has utility in the fields of bone marrow transplantation, fetal cell research, in vitro fertilization, and gene therapy.