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BioMarket Trends : Dec 1, 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 21)

Moving Flow Cytometry Beyond Core Facilities

Prices Are Declining and Traditional Nonusers Will Soon Be Able to Purchase Their Own Instruments
  • Madhu Sharma

Flow cytometry is extensively employed in life science research and diagnostics. The use of flow cytometry has allowed researchers to examine gene- and protein-expression profiles in specific subpopulations of cells. Further, with flow cytometers, researchers can correlate the unique patterns of genetic/protein expression to the signature of diseases and the various underlying pathologies that lead to the same disease phenotype; an analysis that is important in the initial diagnosis of diseases.

The extensive capabilities of flow cytometry have resulted in its use as an analytical tool across numerous life science sectors including pharma/biotech and clinical diagnostics. Additionally, an increase in demand for the creative solutions offered by flow cytometry has prompted manufacturers to develop innovative products with additional capabilities to benefit a diverse array of end users.

Flow cytometry has extended its use beyond traditional immunologists to histologists, pathologists, and hematologists performing diverse assays. Today, flow cytometry has become a routine method in medicine. Applications in clinical diagnostics include the diagnosis of infectious diseases and evaluation of lymphoma, leukemia, autoimmune, hematologic, and oncologic disorders.

Traditionally, flow cytometers have been large in size and expensive, and have required excessive resources for maintenance and operation, restricting individual laboratories from purchasing their own instruments. Accordingly, instrument size, cost, and required maintenance has resulted in the establishment of core facilities operated by trained personnel.

Manufacturers are continually challenged to develop automated, integrated, easy-to-use, and affordable instruments. Advancements in optics and electronics have accelerated flow-cytometry innovation. Over the next two to three years, manufacturers are expected to develop and commercialize polychromatic and combination-flow cytometers with stringent quality-control software at a more affordable price.

Since 2001, several technologically advanced products have been launched to meet the diverse needs of researchers. With these new instruments has come an increase in adoption and subsequent sales. However by 2008, the market was saturated with the majority of core laboratories, virtual pathology laboratories, cancer research centers, drug discovery laboratories, large hospitals, and specialized testing laboratories having already adopted novel flow cytometers.

Today, many start-up companies are developing microfluidics-based flow cytometry systems. The launch of these systems is likely to take place before 2011; and as they gain credibility they should become established as a primary point-of-care testing diagnostic tool. Looking to the future, the price of these new systems is likely to decline to the point where traditional nonusers, such as cell biologists and protein analysts, can afford their own flow cytometers.