End-User Perspectives on Flow Cytometry

Flow cytometry has been used extensively in most research fields, primarily for cell analysis and sorting. While today’s flow cytometers are more user-friendly and can measure fluorescence intensity and analyze data, the technology is still not recognized as an ideal phenotypic screening platform.

Flow cytometry has been used extensively in most research fields, primarily for cell analysis and sorting. While today’s flow cytometers are more user-friendly and can measure fluorescence intensity and analyze data, the technology is still not recognized as an ideal phenotypic screening platform.

A recent Frost & Sullivan survey of 112 end users across academic, private, hospital, and government lab settings recognized a demand for flow cytometry platforms to be an equivalent alternative to imaging technologies, and found the following needs, challenges and utilization patterns.

Speed and High Throughput Remain as Technology Limitations
Nearly 53 percent of respondents used flow cytometry for research purposes while 38 percent used it for research and clinical purposes. Limited throughput was a frequently mentioned challenge across all applications. Traditional flow cytometers can be unwieldy in terms of user interface and with a limited throughput. Respondents mentioned that they can process an average of 4,000 samples a week but expressed a need for faster turnaround of more samples to maintain cell viability and ensure accuracy of results. 

Benefits of Miniaturization Come at a Cost
The majority of commercial flow cytometers use between 50 and 100ul of sample for analysis, however some cell types, such as stem cells and neurons, are expensive and can only be procured in smaller quantities thus requiring other analytical solutions. Stem cell enumeration and analysis of leukemia and lymphoma cells top the list of overall clinical applications. However, many smaller labs cannot afford specialized flow cytometers designed to analyze small sample volume, precluding them from conducting this type of clinical research. 

User Friendly Design as a High Priority
About 67 percent of survey respondents used flow cytometry for immunophenotyping research, and 53 percent used it for cell proliferation. Users in both research areas mentioned that few high-throughput analyzers can perform end-to-end processing—from preparation to analysis of results. The survey found that researchers want more than just tabletop flow cytometers that run around the clock.  They ranked user friendliness as the highest need, above sensitivity and data quality.

Another high priority expressed by users is a need for a platform for screening cells and beads in microplates using not only the instrument but an integrated systems including  software and optimized reagents to provide fast, high-content data.

Improvements in Fluorescent Channels
Conventional flow cytometers have limited fluorescent channels and do not allow rapid analysis of multiple samples. The survey found that nearly 80 percent of respondents demand instruments with multiple light sources of different wavelengths to excite a greater range of colors for more dynamic and wholesome data, and software for more accurate analysis. Gas lasers had been the preferred light source, but solid-state lasers, semiconductor lasers, and mercury lamps are increasingly being used. As a result, fluorescent capabilities were the most important criteria cited by respondents when purchasing or using a flow cytometer.

Future of Flow Cytometry: Microfluidics
There is great anticipation for microfluidic flow cytometry systems that are portable and easy to use. Although some clinics have adopted compact flow cytometers, bulky and mechanically complex instruments that require large sample volumes, labor-intensive pretreatment steps, and specialists to operate remain prevalent 

Cost-effective, lower-volume flow cytometers are needed to expand their use in clinics and point-of-care testing. Microfabrication and microfluidic developments in the industry have been favorable. Potential benefits of microfluidic flow cytometers based on the lab-on-chip principle include, microfluidic channels that reduce expensive reagent and sample quantities, which is important for blood screening and diagnosis of fetal genetic disorders; and microfluidic chip fabrication procedures that offer affordable mass production and ensure quality for accurate and reliable results.
 

Copyright © 2017 Frost & Sullivan

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