“Getting a more granular perspective of what’s going on in cells is a key driver,” in the growth of flow cytometry applications, according to Jason Whalley, market manager for flow cytometry at EMD Millipore. Ascertaining cause and effect of various actions, not just on a single cell but upon entire populations, relates directly to systems biology and therefore, increases the potential utility of flow cytometry.
“Combining immune phenotyping with the molecular world is the major topic we are working on,” according to Wolfgang Mann, Ph.D., group manager for the single-cell product line at Beckman Coulter. “It’s a very new idea.”
Dr. Mann is using flow cytometry to detect and characterize circulating tumor cells in the bloodstream. “Circulating tumor cells are a rare species of cells. They are present at a rate of a few cells per milliliter. The problem is to pick the few cells that can be expressed in human phenotyping, so you need a high-speed method to screen the cells and find the rare ones. Flow cytometry is the method of choice to isolate them.
“The challenge of isolating rare cells could be applied to other fields,” Dr. Mann insists, suggesting stem cell analysis, as stem cells seem to be related to tumor cells and tumorigenesis. Another application could be the analysis of fetal cells circulating in material blood. “If you want to study cell populations, like human B cells or other homogenous cell populations, one should use a flow sorter, like the Astrios, to prepare these cells, in high quality, for molecular analysis.
“In the past, there was a gap between flow cytometers expertise and people working in genetics. This gap is being closed.”