Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Disadvantages of Flow Cytometry

Flow cytometry, a technique that can help characterize microscopic particles such as cells and chromosomes, enables concurrent analysis of the physical and chemical characteristics of thousands of particles per second, and on various different scientific parameters. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting, which is a specialized form of flow cytometry, can also individually sort a heterogeneous mixture of biological cells into two or more streams, based on their fluorescent light scattering properties. Instrumentation based on this concept is an extremely powerful scientific apparatus that is used in research and microbiology labs for the physical sorting of cells. Flow cytometry also finds further application in the diagnosis of health disorders like leukemia (blood cancer).
Disadvantages of flow cytometry technique
There are however some severe limitations in using this scientific technique. Since the resulting data from flow cytometric analysis is at an aggregate level, it is therefore not easy to observe and measure individual cell behavior. Also, as flow cytometry technique requires the passing of these cells through a fluid stream, it restricts the analysis to only cell suspension solutions. For the same reason, solid tissue cells also have to be disaggregated, by treating the intact tissues with an enzyme, so as to release individual cells for further analysis.
Low cell throughput rate
One major disadvantage with the flow cytometer is its low cell throughput rate. Even for high-speed sorters, this is still less than a few thousand cells per second. Many experiments however require very large number of cells. This implies that even high-speed sorters need to run for long durations, which is not only an expensive proposition but may also pose quality issues because the cells sorted from such long runs may no longer be usable in scientific experiments. This problem may be further aggravated when the sorted cells need to be sterile. Although high speed flow cytometers can give sterile cells, but this makes the operation complex and further reduces the throughput.
Requirement of highly trained operators
Since flow cytometer has very sophisticated instrumentation, only skilled and highly trained operators can run it and get any acceptable levels of performance from such an apparatus.
Flow cytometers are expensive
Flow cytometers are expensive instruments to purchase and maintain. A laser flow cytometer, which can only analyze but not sort, costs almost $100,000 while the arc-lamp based cytometers are only marginally cheaper at about $75,000. Flow cytometers with the additional sorting capability can cost almost double of their cheaper versions. Additionally, operating a high speed sort is another recurring expense that typically costs hundreds of dollars for each run.

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