Flow cytometer allows unprecedented cellular analysis

The cutting edge just got a little sharper.

A $500,000 grant from the National Center for Research Resources has allowed the MCG Cancer Center Flow Cytometry Core Facility to acquire an Amnis ImageStreamx Imaging Flow Cytometer.

“It’s the first of its kind. There’s nothing like it, really,” said Dr. Lesleyann Hawthorne, associate professor of pathology and director of Cancer Center Shared Resources. MCG has the only one in Georgia.

Flow cytometry is a technique that is used for examining and counting microscopic particles – such as individual cells – by adding the particles to fluid and running them through measuring equipment.

The technique is routine in diagnosing certain medical disorders, such as blood cancers. But it has more far-reaching impact in research.

“The applications are limitless,” said William King, director of the MCGCC Flow Cytometry Resource. “If you can think of how a picture can complement your work, as it relates to flow cytometry, there’s an application by use of this machine. “

Before acquiring the ImageStreamx, Hawthorn said, the process of counting cells or cellular processes required that an individual researcher count the cells on a microscope. The combined imaging and flow capabilities of the Imagestreamx allows the collection of information about the larger population of cells, making it amenable to statistical analysis.

The ImageStreamx allows unprecedented cellular analysis by combining the speed, sensitivity and statistical robustness of a flow cytometer with the detailed imagery of a high-speed camera. In plain English, it can take high-resolution photos of particles as they change. It can track how cells communicate and interact, how they change in shape and size, whether there is DNA damage and repair, cell multiplication, cell death and more.

Say a researcher is testing a new drug designed to kill tumor cells. The ImageStreamx can now tell the researcher if a cell is a stem cell, a cancer cell or even a cancer stem cell. That distinction helps when analyzing how the drug affects the tumors.

“We try to kill cancer cells, and we study how they die. Once cells that lead to a change in morphology – they disintegrate. But before they disintegrate, there are things that go on inside the cell, which they call early death,” King said. This cytometer allows researchers to see the mechanism of cell death and earlier and more clearly.

As a result of the detail, it reduces user-bias, allows for greater accuracy and detail, and saves time and money for the institution. In fact, it could even make money.

“It’s good for grant applications, because very few institutions have this technology,” Hawthorn said. Currently, 12 projects are scheduled to use the new capabilities for their research.

“We are very excited to have such a novel technology available at MCG and we hope that researchers across the campus will take advantage of it,” King said.

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