Most of us have used, or at least know about flow cytometry: identifying properties in individual cells using lasers to “light up” fluorescently labeled antibodies. It’s highly useful technology, though the limits of the optical system make it impractical to identify more than a dozen or so antibody signals at once.
But now you can throw those limits out the window. The next generation, mass cytometry, is on its way. You can start making plans to head over to the third floor of Walther Hall, where the IU School of Medicine’s new CyTOF (Cytometry Time of Flight) Mass Cytometry System from Fluidigm is being installed.
Edward (Eddy) F. Srour, who has overseen the operations of the flow cytometry core, will also manage the CyTOF, which is being installed in the same lab. At the same time, we’re working out the cost and expense structure for using the system — but be reassured, we want people to use it.
We have joined a relative handful of leading academic research institutions to invest in this technology, one that probes more deeply into cellular activities, identifies more proteins, captures many more downstream events — in general lets us ask much more sophisticated research questions.
As Eddy says, the key is that the discovery process uses mass spectrometry to identify heavy metal tags, resulting in highly specific, narrow signals instead of the overlapping emissions of fluorescent tags. Think of being able to efficiently differentiate 32 signals — and someday as many as 100 — in one experiment.
Or think about cancer research asking whether inhibitor A more effectively shuts down a pathway in a particular cell type than does inhibitor B, and whether the two combined are more effective than either individually, all at the same time. This will be a major asset for our efforts in drug discovery and experimental therapeutics.
Along with the CyTOF, we’ve purchased the Fluidigm C1 and Biomark Single-Cell Auto Prep and Analysis System, which does whole transcriptome analysis of individual cells — 96 cells or more at a time.
Yes, this is one of the most expensive pieces of research equipment that we’ve ever bought. But its capabilities are scary. In a good way.