What is Flow Cytometry?

February 18, 20240

Understanding the Importance of Flow Cytometry:

Flow cytometry is a high sensitivity laboratory technique that plays a crucial role in diagnosing and staging leukemias and lymphomas, and for monitoring the treatment progress of cancer patients. Flow is also critical for monitoring infectious diseases (like HIV) and auto-immune disorders (like Lupus).

Flow Cytometry Test Overview:

Cells are extracted from peripheral blood or tissues, like bone marrow or lymph nodes. These cells are processed and placed in a single cell suspension, where they are tagged with fluorescently labeled markers to proteins on the cell’s surface. Once stained, these cells are put into an instrument called a Flow Cytometer where they pass by a laser. Based on the fluorescent labels, different colors of light are given off and their signals are picked up by detectors. These signals are converted to data for a trained technologist to analyze. A pathologist will interpret and characterize the populations and subpopulations of cells thus identifying any abnormalities. This process is referred to as immunophenotyping.

Uses of Flow Cytometry:

Flow cytometry is versatile and can be used for counting and sorting cells, determining cell characteristics and function, detecting bacteria and fungus, as well as determining the biology of cancer cells, aiding in understanding their development and growth. Flow cytometry studies delineate cells based on their size, cell granularity, DNA content, surface receptors, and intracellular proteins.

Immunology: Primarily used for studying the immune system, especially through immunophenotyping. This involves measuring protein amounts in specific cell types, frequently T-cells, aiding in the diagnosis of leukemia and lymphoma.

Cancer Diagnosis: Flow cytometry is used for diagnosing various cancers, including Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Mantle Cell Lymphoma, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and Multiple Myeloma.

Reading Flow Cytometry Results:

A Medical Technologist uses a software program to display the light scatter patterns in histograms and dot-plots.  The doctor will analyze the results by comparing patterns of cell populations to normal results for a healthy person in the same age group.

Based on results, doctors can:

Diagnose Cancer: Identify the specific cancer present.

Determine Cancer Stage: Understand the stage of cancer.

Recommend Treatment: Suggest appropriate treatment options.

Patient Interaction:

Patients are encouraged to discuss their flow cytometry test results with their care team. Understanding the types of cells expressed and what they indicate is essential.

Flow cytometry’s ability to provide detailed information about cell properties has made it a valuable tool in cancer diagnosis and treatment monitoring.

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