Year/Course: 2020-2021, Lent 2021

Inventors: Mr. Gillies Kleboe, Dr. Steven F. Lee (Department of Chemistry), & Dr. Kevin O’Holleran (Centre for Advanced Imaging, Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience)
Mentor: Brian Corbett

Flow cytometers are widely used in scientific research and industrial applications to analyse and to sort millions of cells per minute. Typically cells are labelled with fluorescent markers and then sorted based on whether they are simply fluorescent or not. Although useful, this tells you nothing about the health of a cell or the where in the subcellular environment the cells are labelled.

A joint research team across the Department of Chemistry and the Centre for Advanced Imaging in the Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience, has developed a new optical technique that allows for 3D imaging cell cytometry without slowing down the rate of cell analysis.

There are many advantages of combining imaging with cell cytometry, and these differ depending on the particular application. For example cell images can show in much greater detail which parts of the cell structure are actually fluorescing, as well as allowing a better appreciation of the cellular morphology and size ranges.

These images can then be used to increase the sensitivity of the flow cytometer or to sort cells on a more specific basis (for example sorting cells which are fluorescing only in a particular part of the cell – the nucleus or plasma membrane).

In addition handling such a large number of 3D images at such high speeds requires expertise in data science and machine learning, and opens up the opportunity of advanced computing techniques such as “deep phenotyping” as very large training datasets are now possible.

The role of the i-Team is to identify possible uses for the new technique and recommend which applications have the greatest need. They will also need to investigate the performance needs of the different application areas, to enable the inventors to ensure that their technique can match the requirements.