Buyers’ Guide: Flow Cytometers

(February 15, 2013) - The ability to sort individual cells quickly based on their size or protein expression has had a significant, positive impact on any area of cell biology research or medicine in which a mixed population of cells needs to be sorted out. This is accomplished using flow cytometry, in which cells (or particles) in suspension are funneled single-file through a narrow opening that ends in a nozzle, such that droplets of fluid emerge one at a time. Each droplet may, or may not, contain one cell.

How Does a Flow Cytometer Function?

As the droplet falls, it passes through one or several lasers. If the cell is labeled with a fluorescent tag that is excited by the laser light, the fluorescent signal that it subsequently emits will be noted by detectors. The scatter of the laser light, as well as the fluorescent signal, tells a computer to which (prespecified) population each cell belongs. The computer directs the flow cytometer to send each droplet to the collection well for its group. For example, it may sort droplets into categories of no cell, cell with no fluorescent signal, cell with a green fluorescent signal, cell with a red fluorescent signal, and cell with both green and red fluorescent signals.

Applications for flow cytometry

Researchers currently use flow cytometry for many complex applications, including:

  • Immunophenotyping
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Cycle Regulation

However, the range of powerful flow cytometry instruments available today could bewilder even the seasoned shopper of lab instrumentation. If you are looking for a flow cytometer, mulling over some key considerations will help you narrow your options.

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