Are You in the Market for a Flow Cytometer?

By Lab Manager

Flow cytometry is a powerful technology that allows researchers and clinicians to perform complex cellular analysis quickly and efficiently by analyzing several parameters simultaneously. Just a few years ago, working with a flow cytometry instrument was generally done by teams of highly trained experts at core facilities, working on massive machines costing more than $100,000. Today’s instruments can be built for benchtop use and are getting ever cheaper. Much of the machine setup is now automated, which will likely continue to democratize the method. Benchtop, micro-capillary flow cytometers, paired with ready- to-use cell analysis kits, enable any researcher to leverage the power of flow cytometry, regardless of expertise or access to a core facility. These systems accommodate smaller sample volumes, generate less waste, have lower operating costs, and are easier to set up and run than traditional flow cytometers.

The amount of information obtained from a single sample can be further expanded by using multiple fluorescent reagents. The number and combinations of fluorescent reagents that can be used by a flow cytometer depend on the types of lasers, filters and detectors with which each instrument is equipped. The more lasers and detectors an instrument has, the more simultaneous detection of colors it is capable of. In response to reduced reliance on core lab services, manufacturers of flow cytometers have been busily upgrading instrument capabilities for expert and casual users.

Field of work respondents selected that most closely aligns with their lab.

Immunology 21%
Molecular Biology 13%
Microbiology 6%
Biochemistry 6%
Oncology 5%
Pharmaceuticals 4%
Hematology 4%
Plant Biology 3%
Hospital/Medical 3%
Pathology 2%
Marine Biology 1%
Other 8%

Is “affordable” flow cytometry for you?

Seek the best fit for function. Today’s new instruments haven’t made the art of flow cytometry completely foolproof and users should understand what the technology can and can’t do before making a purchase. When evaluating a flow cytometer purchase, buyers should seek the best fit for function. Users running simple assays involving cell viability or counting often do not require a high level of sophistication. These purchasers should balance ease of setup, of running samples, and acquiring/ analyzing data against cost of use and investment in learning to use the instrument. Users should be able to operate a two-laser system within a few hours of opening the box; more complex instruments may require a three- to four-day training course.

Ask yourself where you will be 3-5 years. How many samples and what kind of assays will you be running? What parameters will you be looking at? Do you expect to increase the number or complexity of your applications and is it possible to upgrade the machine you’re considering? If the instrument doesn’t meet your future needs, you may better serve your lab in purchasing a higher-end instrument.

Factor in ongoing expenses. You’ll be paying not only for assay reagent kits, filters, and other consumables, but also for replacement parts and the time it will take to install them.

Test it. If you do decide to take the leap, contact your core facility and ask them whether they’ve demoed the instrument.

Educate yourself and make sure you properly train your staff.

Here are the top 10 features our respondents found the most important in their decision to buy a flow cytometer:

High accuracy analysis 98%
More reliable lasers 98%
Service and support provided by vendor 96%
Low maintenance/easy to clean 91%
Price 90%
Warranty 87%
Ease of use 83%
Cell sorting 65%
Ongoing expenses for reagents, consumables, and parts 52%
Ease of Installation 52%

Completed Surveys: 329 (includes survey results from our sister publication, The Scientist)

Categories: Surveys

Published In

Is the Rollercoaster Ride Over? Magazine Issue Cover
Is the Rollercoaster Ride Over?

Published: March 1, 2012

Cover Story

Is the Roller Coaster Ride Over?

The laboratory industry enjoyed several years of robust growth from the late 1990s until 2003. Record research and development (R&D) investments by the biopharmaceutical industry, in combination with the doubling of the U.S. National Institutes budget, allowed for continual double-digit growth rates.