Written by Tim Bushnell, Ph.D
Since the first laser was mounted to create the first flow cytometer, there has been a push for more – more lasers, more detectors, and more colors.
So researchers could ask more complicated questions to squeeze every iota of data out of rare events and precious samples, and so clinicians could expand the diagnostics capabilities of the technology. In addition, this trend has occurred so biotech companies could expand high-content screening for drug discovery.
Instrument manufacturers have brought to the table a plethora of different instruments, with capabilities to suit the needs of the researcher, at price points to make the accountants happy, with all improvements in hardware, software and automation to make the operator’s job easier. Often, these are based on an extension of the available equipment a vendor currently has.
Due to these improvements, the average researcher today has capabilities that were previously possible in only a very few specialized laboratories.
The Democratization of Flow Cytometry
What happens when an instrument manufacturer takes a step back, evaluates needs of different constituencies, and embarks on a journey to build a machine from the ground up, taking the best in technology and workflow to bring something novel to market that enables more users to gain access to the highest level capabilities?
A democratization of flow cytometry, and perhaps science in general.
As a core manager, some of the characteristics that are important in evaluating a potential new instrument include sensitivity, flexibility, and capacity. When thinking about training users, an easy to user interface is a must. If the software interface is too complicated, the system will sit in the corner and collect dust. Automation of common tasks from startup, to instrument cleaning, to quality control, are bonuses.
Researchers need to have a large number of lasers and detectors to ensure current panels can be run and new, expanded panels can be developed. Fast, automated acquisition is important to allow more to get done during the day. And, an easy to use software to reduce the barrier to access is a must.
This is a tall order because, in general, making one decision to improve a cell analyzer can limit the analyzer in other ways.
For example, fast acquisition with multiple lasers requires fast electronics and responsive optics, which can drive the cost of the instrument higher. Likewise, automation of common tasks can require complex software and monitoring devices, which may both increase price and decrease ease of access.
It may seem like an impossible task, but the team of Bio-Rad and Propel Laboratories, collaborated to bring the ZE5™ Cell Analyzer to the market and, with thoughtful design, the Analyzer answers these challenges, resulting in a high-end, easy to use, automated flow cytometer.
3 Advantages Of Using The ZE5 Flow Cytometer
Starting with the standard flow cytometry workflow, the ZE5 is the cytometrist’s cytometer.
On-board and automated quality control systems ensure the instrument starts up at the beginning of the day, and shuts down at the end of the day. More than that, the system has a novel development called the ‘ZE5-EYE’.
This system monitors all the laser spots, making sure the correct filter is in place and, more importantly, continues to monitor the system performance during the day, notifying users if there is a problem BEFORE they run their samples.
Overall, the ZE5 offers 3 unique advantages to cytometrists and end-users alike…
1. User Friendly Software With A Panel Design Tool
The ZE5’s advanced software system is called Everest™. But, don’t be fooled by its advanced capabilities.
Everest is easy to use and intuitive, which means even the most novice of users will not be intimidated as they learn to perform their flow cytometry experiments.
In addition, the software aids in the panel design process, and allows the researcher to view, on the instrument, the best fluorochrome/laser/filter combinations, which is essential for the development of a high-end polychromatic panel.
2. High-End Construction And Advanced Capabilities
With 5 lasers, the ZE5 has the range to take advantage of all commercially available dyes.
Another positive feature is the lasers are liquid-cooled. This helps maintain laser stability, especially on hot (and humid) days in the lab.
The fluidics have been re-thought too. For those familiar with the swappable fluidics of the S3e™ Cell Sorter also from Bio-Rad, it will come as no surprise that the ZE5 has a similar fluidics system. So, if a researcher has a long run, they don’t have to depressurize the system to refill the sheath tanks.
Instead, with the ZE5, you can hot-swap the fluidics with no loss of sample integrity during long acquisitions.
3. Lightening Fast Acquisition Speed Without Sacrificing Quality
Acquisition speed always has been a limitation on many systems. Slow systems increase the time to collect sufficient events to do rare event (and really rare event) analysis, and make rare event analysis tedious and time-consuming.
This is not the case with the ZE5, as seen in the figure below…
Figure 1: This graph shows the acquisition speed capabilities of the ZE5. Bangs Labs, Dragon Green Beads were used in a serial dilution to determine when cell count falls off the theoretical limit. The ZE5 outperforms other systems at higher acquisition speeds as it continues to acquire data into the 100,000 event per second range, whereas the competitive systems fall off around 20,000 events per second. Data and graph courtesy of Karen Helm, MT(ASCP) from the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
The ZE5 tops out at a level up to 100,000 events per second, making those 10-minute run times a thing of the past, in many cases. Even more impressive is the fact that the data spread and loss of events due to hard aborts and coincident events is tolerable at that high rate.
As mentioned, today’s researchers require a large number of lasers and detectors to ensure current panels can be run and expanded panels can be developed. The problem is that improving a cell analyzer in one direction can limit the analyzer in another direction. The ZE5 Cell Analyzer solves this problem with their new flow cytometer that includes user-friendly Everest software, high-end construction and capabilities, and blazing fast, high-quality acquisition speed.
To learn more about the ZE5 Cell Analyzer from Bio-Rad, and how to analyze your cells properly and faster acquisition speeds, click here.
My other passions include grilling, wine tasting, and real food. To be honest, my biggest passion is flow cytometry, which is something that Carol and I share. My personal mission is to make flow cytometry education accessible, relevant, and fun. I’ve had a long history in the field starting all the way back in graduate school.