Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) is expanding its Flow Cytometry unit at the Blizard Institute, with the addition of a new analyser instrument.

Flow Cytometry technology is over 50 years old and is used in several applications from immunophenotyping, for example in the detection of tumour markers, and in the diagnosis of leukaemia, to ploidy analysis, to cell counting and GFP expression analysis. Costing up to £445,000, the new machine is due to arrive in the summer following a tendering process.

Cytometers measure cells that span a range of between 0.2 and >50 microns in diameter. As a cell passes through a laser, it will refract or scatter light from all angles. The cytometer measures the forward scatter, or the low angle of light. Fluorochromes bond to monoclonal antibodies bind to cells of interest and the lasers in the flow cytometer excite these fluorophores. The new machine will be able to analyse 50 fluorophores by 5 lasers, instead of 14 under the original instrument, which is being replaced.

Dr Gary Warnes, Flow Cytometry Core Facility Manager

The unit is managed by Gary Warnes, who has worked with the technology for over 30 years, from when he tested CD4 counts at St. Marys in 1986, and then setting up the Diagnostic Lab for CD4 counts at the Immunology Department at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1987.

Gary said: “The lasers analyse fluorochromes on monoclonal antibodies, which bind to different types of cells inside and out. So, surface CD markers, transcription factors, cell activation markers, cytokines, markers of cell death, DNA and RNA content can also be measured.”

QMB tenants Spirogen and ADCT Therapeutics, which are exploring how to effectively use cytotoxic agents connected to antibodies to attack tumour cells, have already expressed an interest in using the new technology.

Gary added: “Fluorescent DNA dyes can measure the amount of DNA in each cell, so it can be used for the detection of cancer and also determine with the additional use of monoclonal antibodies the different types of leukaemia. Cells can be separated in their millions into test tubes or single cells can be placed into 96 or 384 well Tissue Culture or PCR plates. This enables genomic, proteomics and RNA sequencing to be carried out to great effect in the study of numerous diseases.”

The cell sorter was upgraded in 2012 from version I to III for £75,000 paid from user hourly funds, while two instruments – a BDFACS Canto II 8-colour instrument was installed in 2008, and an ACEA Biosciences Novocyte 3000 13-colour analyser, was bought in 2015.