That’s the way cells flow…

My “Life Science Technology” feature on flow cytometry appears in the Nov. 5 issue of Science. Focusing on what’s new and different in this decades-old technology, I discovered some really nifty approaches, from a shoebox-sized instrument that travelled to the waters off Antarctica, to an imaging-based cytometer that reports not only protein abundance but also its subcellular location. The technology that most fascinated me, though, was a mass spec-based cytometer called CyTOF, from DVS Sciences.

Traditional flow cytometers interrogate fluorophore-labeled cells using a laser beam, and thus are limited by the spectral overlap that characterize such dyes; at most, researchers can combine 23 colors, but most scientists use no more than 10 — the meticulous work required to control and optimize such antibody panels is simply beyond many researchers. CyTOF, though, labels cells with metals, specifically, lanthanides and noble metals. Because mass spectrometers have no trouble distinguishing elements that differ by just one mass unit, CyTOF can easily probe dozens of proteins simultaneously, no optimization required. “Some [researchers] can occasionally, by standing on their head, on a full moon, get 17 [colors] or so. But panel development takes months to get right,” says flow cytometry expert Garry Nolan of Stanford University School of Medicine. “So imagine suddenly doubling that number, and you can design your panel the day before and be ready to go. You can imagine the excitement.”

~ by jeffreyperkel on November 4, 2010.

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