Drug Discovery
Flow cytometry, bio-rad cell analyzer
Flow Cytometry - The advanced systems overcoming drug discovery pain points

Flow Cytometry - The advanced systems overcoming drug discovery pain points

By Helen Stewart-Miller and Dr Richard Massey
Spring 2019

Flow cytometry is an invaluable technique for the characterisation of highly heterogeneous cell populations.

Thanks to improvements in throughput, automation and multichannel detection capabilities, recent years have seen its use expand across a wide range of drug discovery applications. In this article, we look at novel developments in flow cytometer reagent and instrument design, and what these mean for drug discovery.

Flow cytometry is an optical cell counting and characterisation technique that enables large quantities of multiparametric information to be rapidly collected on highly heterogenous cell populations. Capable of analysing many thousands of cells in a matter of seconds, flow cytometry offers formidable statistical power for screening applications, while its ability to simultaneously measure dozens of parameters on an individual cell basis gives it considerable advantages over bulk analysis techniques that average out important phenotypic differences.

Improvements in speed, capacity and usability over the past decade have seen flow cytometry used for a growing number of drug discovery applications, including biomarker discovery, ligand binding assays, antibody screening as well as target identification and validation. In large part, the adoption of flow cytometry across the length and breadth of the drug discovery pipeline has been driven by the ease of which systems can be integrated with automation platforms, making highthroughput screening applications increasingly cost-effective while helping pharma innovate faster.

Despite these improvements, the need for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to do more with the same resources has put pressure on laboratories to derive additional value from their flow cytometry workflows. Fortunately, instrument and reagent vendors are meeting this need by developing solutions that make workflows more efficient and maximise the range of parameters that can be studied simultaneously.

Pushing the limits of multiparametric analysis

Flow cytometry measures how individual cells interact with light. The technique involves passing a thin stream of cells, often labelled using fluorescent dyes (known as fluorochromes), in front of one or more laser beams. Absorbed light is subsequently emitted by fluorescence at specific wavelengths and the intensity of this light is measured using sophisticated optics and electronics. Because cells with specific phenotypic features generate differing emission spectra, valuable cell characterisation information can be rapidly obtained.

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