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New Technology Speeds Diagnosis of Blood Disorders


SLUCare pathologists view 10-color flow cytometryPictured: The 10-color flow cytometry facilitates swift diagnosis, sometimes within hours.

10-Color Flow Cytometry Enables Faster Results, Earlier Treatment

Thanks to another new technology, SLUCare physicians again are on the cutting edge of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, specifically disorders of the blood. This time, they are using 10-color flow cytometry — capable of detecting up to 10 simultaneous fluorescent signals — to precisely depict and analyze cells from bone marrow, blood, lymph nodes and other tissue. A chief benefit of this cytometry is that diagnoses can be made in a very short time, allowing treatment to begin sooner.

It's a highly advanced diagnostic tool.”

Up until very recently, the cytometry instrument used two or four colors to make diagnoses, but Dr. Katherine Robbins, SLUCare pathologist and assistant professor of pathology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says that while that number was still very effective, the jump to more colors is akin to switching from early color television to HDTV: The picture is richer, crisper, more accurate. "It's a highly advanced diagnostic tool," she says of the technology, which uses lasers to map the ‘fingerprint' of each cell. Flow cytometry is able to analyze several thousand particles a second and can actively separate and isolate particles with specific properties. Cells are suspended in a stream of fluid and passed single file through a light beam for sensing.

Town & Style SLUCare Pathology cover"In order to deliver the very best treatment, we need to understand everything about the cell. Upgrading to 10-color flow cytometry now allows us to more precisely characterize tumor cell populations," Robbins says. An added benefit of the tool is that it can extract information from very small samples with limited cells, like those taken from fine needle aspirates, cerebral spinal fluid and small tissue biopsies. Higher information content per tube maximizes small specimens, she says, and minimizes the chance of incomplete analyses; low-frequency abnormalities can be more easily detected.

This upgrade has been in the works for several months and became available in November 2016 when live testing began. "It's a process. We wanted to make absolutely sure the results were accurate," Robbins explains.

In a conventional biopsy, it takes time for tissue to be processed, but now we can take live cells and run the analysis much faster.”

She says a huge benefit of the 10-color flow cytometry is that it facilitates swift diagnoses, sometimes within a matter of hours. "In a conventional biopsy, it takes time for tissue to be processed, but now we can take live cells and run the analysis much faster," she notes. "This has great implications since it means treatment can start sooner." She adds that the needlepoint accuracy of the diagnosis means that oncologists can be even more precise in their decision-making regarding treatment, and that the collaboration between SLUCare doctors and departments also helps to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients. "Ours is a fully integrated service where all data is shared to provide accurate diagnoses and the best care," Robbins says. "That's what I believe makes SLUCare unique."

SLUCare Hematopathology Flow Cytometry Laboratory now offers the high-tech 10-color flow cytometry. Capable of detecting more than 10 simultaneous fluorescent signals, the cytometer improves the diagnosis and monitoring of blood disorders.

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This article originally appeared in Town & Style magazine.

By: Alexa Beattie