Inside a Clinical Trials lab at UCLH: Part II, Flow Cytometry

by Ridwaan Joghee

During my In2ScienceUK placement I’ve also learnt the process of ‘flow cytometry’. To begin cytometry is the quantifiable analysis of cells and cell systems. Prevalent examples are flow cytometry and image cytometry, which are primarily optical methods.

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The flow cytometer works by counting and analyzing the size, shape and properties of different cells within a heterogeneous population.

Firstly, before using a flow cytometer you have to prepare your test-tube samples which contain a suspension of cells or tissues. This will include staining your samples with ‘trypan blue’, this is so the laser can observe different parts of the cell and can analyze in detail.

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The flow cytometer then sucks up the fluid from the test-tube. The fluid is then mixed with a saline solution. Inside the cytometer there is a laser which analyses each cell. Each cell (single file) passes through the laser. The laser then carefully analyses the cells. This analysis means we can differentiate cells size, shape and properties into different groups.

There will then be data produced on the computer screen, we can use a univariate histogram to display the data. A correlation will then be produced between two constraints using a bivariate histogram, or cytogram, in the arrangement of a dot, contour or density plot. This process is fundamental for scientists since they’ve to know if patients have enough red or white blood cells in their system. From this quantitative analysis of cells, we can come to a conclusion that certain cells are lacking and a further conclusion can be drawn about the patient, this narrows the possible problems of the patient, so the actual problem becomes clear.

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Ridwaan was supervised by Caroline Cook at the NIHR/Wellcome UCLH Clinical Research Facility