BD, which commercialized the industry’s first cell sorter in 1973, is addressing both extremes of the markets, Mason says. New product announcements and improvements to the existing platforms will be made later this spring. At one end of the spectrum, BD is developing instruments for individual researchers that Mason characterizes as “less high touch, more personal instruments that are affordable for individual researchers.”
Designed for convenience, these user-friendly models utilize new hardware and software approaches. “A number of them are in beta testing now.”
At the other end, Mason says, “many flow cytometers run in core labs with hundreds of users and multiple applications. They want an instrument they can configure to respond to current and future needs, with the lowest possible background and the highest possible sensitivity.” To meet the needs of these experts, Mason says, “we collaborate with key researchers and opinion leaders, and have a special order program to precisely meet their needs.”
For example, the BD FACSAria™ III Cell Sorting System with six lasers was introduced last summer and included upgrade pathways for the existing user base.
BD’s Special Order Group shipped the first nine-laser, user-operated flow cytometer last November. Called the BD LSR-II Flow Cytometer, it is being used by the Centenary Institute in Australia to detect and analyze rare regulatory T cells. As Advanced Cytometry Facility academic director professor Nick King said in a news release at the time, “The extra lasers on the LSR-II Flow Cytometer will give researchers a greater range of labels to analyze cells so they will only have to run one sample.”
That allows more accurate and more direct measurements, reduces the need to infer relationships, and uses less material than previous flow cytometers. Users report getting more information in a single analysis than was possible before using multiple analyses that required 10 times the amount of material.
BD Biosciences’ multifaceted approach to flow cytometer design mirrors that of the broader industry, which is simultaneously improving ease of use, increasing capacity, and improving the technology itself.
“Although lasers may be considered the powerhouse of the instrument,” Mason says, flow cytometer manufacturers are also making improvements in fluidics, electronics, and signal detection. The just-released FACSAria III Cell Sorting System, for example, uses what Mason refers to as “the next-generation gel-coupled cuvette flow cell” to ensure that the lasers are focused precisely and generate maximum signal. Its optical system also features enhanced sensitivity and resolution to identify dim cell populations, side populations and DNA cell cycle analyses.