By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Flow cytometry is a technology that is used to analyse the physical and chemical characteristics of particles in a fluid as it passes through at least one laser. Cell components are fluorescently labelled and then excited by the laser to emit light at varying wavelengths.
The fluorescence can then be measured to determine the amount and type of cells present in a sample. Up to thousands of particles per second can be analysed as they pass through the liquid stream.
This laser-based technology is used to perform several procedures including:
- Cell counting
- Cell sorting
- Detection of biomarkers
- Protein engineering
Flow cytometry has numerous applications in science, including those relevant to healthcare. The technology has been widely used in the diagnosis of health conditions, particularly diseases of the blood such as leukemia, although it is also commonly used in the various different fields of clinical practice as well as in basic research and clinical trials.
Some examples of the fields this technology is used in include molecular biology, immunology, pathology, marine science and plant biology. In medicine, flow cytometry is a vital laboratory process used in transplantation, oncology, hematology, genetics and prenatal diagnosis. In marine biology, the abundance and distribution of photosynthetic plankton can be analysed.
Flow cytometry can also be used in the field of protein engineering, to help identify cell surface protein variants.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014