One Cell at a Time: The Evolution of Cell Biology by Cytometry - Cytometry Now

News and Views

Community submitted commentary on the field of cytometry. We will feature blog posts from key leaders in the field discussing the direction of cytometry research, the impact of the latest findings and application of cytometry, and where the future of cytometry is headed.

One Cell at a Time: The Evolution of Cell Biology by Cytometry

Close to a decade ago, the consensus view of experts was that the field of cytometry had reached its effective peak. The technology at the time allowed for the analysis of close to 20 different cellular markers or fluorescent indicators from the same sample, a wealth of information with which to identify all expectable cell phenotypes and to understand the interactions of cellular machinery and cell systems. Technological growth was primarily directed towards increasing the number of indicators with better dyes and fluorophores, and improved analytical software to increase the robustness and depth of the data experimenters could already record. The field of cytometry was established in its techniques, and the future direction of the technologies was set on a predictable course.

Physicist Niels Bohr is attributed with quoting an old Danish proverb that says “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” when giving his thoughts on the direction of research. In the decade since that consensus view, technology utilized in the biological sciences has advanced significantly both in its breadth of application and accessibility. Lasers, used for detecting fluorophores and dyes, have within the last 10 years become more versatile and affordable, computing power has substantially increased while also reducing in cost, new dyes and assays have been developed and bioinformatics has given us a wealth of new tools and algorithms to assist our ability to interpret the plethora of information that modern cytometry can generate. Cytometry now possesses technology capable of distinguishing 40 or more fluorescent indicators. Technology has developed to allow the detection of metal isotopes such that cells can be analyzed by time-of-flight mass spectrometry, creating a new application termed mass cytometry. Tissue samples can be cytometrically dissected with high fidelity by multiplexed imaging cytometry and (semi-) automated image analysis, adding structural information that bestows a spatial context to our understanding of cell function. The standardization of protocols, a documented consensus on best practice methodology, manifold approaches for standardization, and standardized quality control will improve the comparison of results across platforms and laboratories that are essential to achieving reproducibility of results.

These technological and methodological developments make cellular systems analysis and discovery take on new level of meaningful impact in supporting biomedical discovery, improving our understanding of disease and enabling a greater level of clinical diagnosis. Due to these advances, cytometry has aided in expanding the details of our view on the life, revealing hitherto unknown cell subtypes and elucidating their roles in the greater context of biological systems. For example, the discovery of heterogeneities cancer cells of a single patient can aid clinicians in developing targeted therapies, leading to an expansion in cell type specific drug development. The rise of cell-based therapy presents a new promising horizon in the hopes of curing patients where more conventional drug-based therapies have failed. Combined with cell-based therapies, the study of exosomes and their role as cellular messengers is emerging as potential diagnostic indicators and therapeutic avenues for the detection and treatment of disease. Cytometry will be an indispensable tool to the development of the cell-based therapies, ensuring the optimization of production and cellular quality prior to implementation.

Cytometry is increasingly not limited to clinical application, but emerging fields of ecological science and environmental protection stand to gain great benefits from the use of the technology. Monitoring of plankton ecosystems in the ocean, bacterial communities in the soil, wastewater or within an organism and the cataloging of plant genome sizes are all applications for cytometry which have been growing in sophistication and scope in recent years .

Innovations in methodology and technology make cytometry a fascinating and ever evolving area of research in both the life sciences and clinical settings. Through CytometryNOW, the editorial staff is excited to participate in driving the development and expansion of the research of cytometry and share our enthusiasm for this branch of research with the global community.