Flow cytometry is one of the most highly skilled analytical techniques that gradually gained credit and trust in the clinical laboratory, performing delicate tests with the necessary precision, accuracy, specificity, sensitivity and speed. Its role is not diminished by the increasing importance of other methodologies, which, far from competing with it, complement it in basic, diagnostic and research applications.
Based on a very simple idea – the “per event” analysis of a mono-dispersed population of cells (but also of organelles, bacteria, viruses, liposomes, micro-beads, and other natural or artificial microstructures) – flow cytometry’s value lies in its ability to analyse and present the distribution of the parameters under study thus opening the way to their multivariate analysis.
From a practical point of view, this capability enables populations of events featuring the most difficult analytical conditions, such as high heterogeneity, parameter co-expression and substantial differences in their frequency in the sample, to be studied.
Most important of all, thanks to its combination with the advancements in computer sciences, flow cytometry is a technique that can translate the results of an analytical run into a digital dataset that can be used with computer software capable of performing the most diverse tasks, from data mining to graphic modelling.
Nowadays one can consider the role of a flow cytometric facility in a credited clinical laboratory to be the dedicated section for carrying out crucial tests, such as the phenotyping of hematological malignancies, cell subset analysis and stem cell transplantation, as well as filling the gaps left by the ordinary laboratory equipment in a number of niche applications, such as feto-maternal hemorrhage, sepsis activation, PNH analysis, in vitro basophil activation by tricky allergens, control of leukoreduced blood products, HLA single-antigen screening, HIT analysis, red cell sport doping and many others.
This means that the clinical flow cytometry laboratory has a unique opportunity to support a number of different medical specialties and that the dedicated scientists must be especially knowledgeable, well-trained and open-minded people.
For all these reasons flow cytometry can be seen as an essential tool in biology, pathology and medicine, but, above all, as one of the most important instrument in cytomics.